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Marvin Kitman

'Suck-O-Vision' shows draw you in against your will

(Los Angeles Times) -- The only thing I seem to be watching on commercial TV this summer is "Survivor." And in my spare time, "Big Brother." I'm a well-rounded person.

These shows are examples of what I call "suck-o-vision," referring to its compelling quality to draw you in. I keep saying I'm not going to watch it anymore. I can be passing by the den TV on a Wednesday night at 8, when CBS happens to be on the screen. I stand in front of it, looking at the show for a moment. And before I know it, 10 minutes have passed. This is silly, I say to myself, I might as well sit down.

Once again, I've been sucked in.

Everybody has his own excuse for watching "Survivor" against his will.

"I find it amazing how much the characters on 'Survivor' resemble that other famous show 'Gilligan's Island,'" explains Mitch Proffman of Bellmore, New York.

"Every time I see Rich going fishing," reports Connie Furey of Sayville, New York, "I keep wondering where is Jaws when we need him? Couldn't someone morph footage of Rich meeting with a nasty moray eel?"

It's also getting more exciting every week. The competition among survivors has grown uglier, leading up to the three-hour finale Wednesday night.

Picking the winning survivor has become the nation's second-favorite indoor sport, seemingly more important than the other big reality series of the summer, the presidential race. I don't want to seem boastful, but I have had a perfect nine out of nine record, having picked the wrong person to be expelled the last nine weeks in a row. Only thing marring my season-long performance was picking the right ones the first two weeks. It was child's play, projecting Sonya, the grandmother, and BB, the senior citizen real estate agent, given the strong anti-AARP bias of the show.

I'm also the one taken in by the so-called hoax projecting Gervase as the ultimate survivor. "Using an Internet rumor is generally not a smart approach," as e-mail pal Prabhath Valiveti of Atlanta explained.

I feel obligated to comment on this now because I made such a fuss about CBS' inadvertently, it seemed, leaking the winner through a Web site boo-boo. In spite of my column, Gervase was thrown off two weeks later. A real shocker to authorities like myself.

Some people suggest it was deliberate misinformation planted by producer Mark Burnett. He came "this close," as the papers said, to admitting he had engineered the whole Gervase-is-the-winner mess. "It was all good fun," Burnett explained.

If Burnett and CBS made it up -- and I still have my doubts they could have been that clever -- it was one of the more stupid hoaxes of all time.

Originally, I thought it was something CBS had done itself in order to get more publicity for the show. Revealing the winner, even if it was the wrong winner, before the game ended would be shooting themselves in Mel Karmazin's wallet. Not even CBS could be that stupid.

My theory was that it would hurt viewership. Who wanted to watch anymore if they knew the winner? What was the point, true or false? In other words, psychologically, if you think you know who won, it's the same thing as knowing who won.

Little did I understand then the magnetic nature of suck-o-vision.

The amazing thing is that instead of the numbers for the show declining, they actually went up.

The other stupid hoax that CBS perpetrated on the reality TV audience was the so-called new houseguest on "Big Brother."

The weak sister of the reality shows, "Big Brother," is normally even duller than a presidential nominating convention. The only difference between this revolutionary Dutch format and the old cable TV public access shows from the 1970s is the talking heads wear makeup and the lighting is a little better.

In order to juice the show, CBS leaked to the press that it was adding a houseguest. Quel excitement! It already had thrown out the two most stimulating residents. Who would be the replacement? Kathie Lee?

What was this -- a ringer, a designated guest at this late stage of the game? It was almost like a fresh horse coming into the race at the fourth furlong.

It turned out the new house guest was a pet dog, a pug named Chiquita. How cute.

I still can't believe how incredibly bad and amateurish and non-television is "Big Brother." It is not a program so much as it is somebody leaving a video camera on by accident. None of which stops me from watching.

Such is the power of suck-o-vision.

Kitman is the television critic for New York Newsday. His column appears regularly on CNN Interactive's Entertainment section. E-mail Kitman at

© 2000, Newsday Inc. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

Commercial-free public TV? Not on Marvin's screen
August 9, 2000
Knowing who 'Survivor' is ruins Wednesday nights
July 26, 2000
'Any Day Now' this great show will get recognition
July 20, 2000

CBS Survivor
Big Brother

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