Yet in recent weeks, ads for two new TLC shows, "Addicted" and ""Hoarding: Buried Alive", have made cameos in the magazines I read and on the websites I frequent. Is it possible that TLC has gone boy-crazy?
The answer, judging by the entries targeted in my general direction, is a qualified no -- "qualified" in the sense that neither of the two shows offer anything new to anybody of any gender. Indeed, "Addicted" and "Hoarding: Buried Alive" rank among the most blatant, shameless appropriations of existing creative concepts in TV history.
The former rips off A&E's "Intervention" , while the latter is a note-for-note rehash of A&E's "Hoarders." The only drama here is self-provided: speculating as to what makes each SOS candidate a better fit for one network over the other. A&E tends to take on the harder cases, it seems.
That, actually, would make a fine reality program: following around the producers of the two pairs of shows as they compete for camera-compliant addicts, like college coaches attempting to land the best hoops recruits. "The good news is that we scored the Tuskegee tweaker and that guy who devised a DIY narcotic from string cheese and saliva. The bad news is that the shoe-hoarding Mitzi twins have decided to go with TLC. They must've been lured by the Payless integration, but that's still a tough loss."
Anyway, "Addicted" and "Hoarding: Buried Alive" are to "Intervention" and "Hoarders" as Kmart is to Nordstrom. Not that the two A&E shows go about their business in a clinical manner -- they too enjoy their midnight-sobbing-on-the-beanbag interludes -- but the TLC doppelgangers don't have the slightest interest in exploring the psychology or chemistry of addiction. They're all about watching the animals in their cages. As such, they represent a new low in the burgeoning tele-genre of pity porn.
Anyone who's seen "Intervention" knows what to expect. We're introduced to an addict of some sort -- booze, painkillers, etc. -- and spend the next 60 minutes basking in his or her descent. "Addicted" may devote a bit more time to the initial stages of recovery, courtesy of video diaries and quick glimpses into "self-esteem class," but otherwise it replicates the "Intervention" formula of photo montages, shaky camera footage and ominous piano plinking. Unfortunately, by emphasizing dysfunctional ick over emotion or explanation, "Addicted" manages to render its subjects less sympathetic than annoying. That's quite an achievement, given that general human decency demands we feel something -- compassion, sadness, rage, whatever -- for these afflicted human beings.
Host (and addict-turned-counselor) Kristina Wandzilak doesn't exactly nudge "Addicted" in the right direction. While I admire anybody who spends his or her life in the service of helping others -- as opposed to, say, writing stuff about things -- Wandzilak's chief areas of expertise appear to be concerned looks, bromides and brow-creasing hats.
After we see one addict turn to prostitution to support her habit, Wandzilak offers the following technical analysis: "What Klea is engaged in is very, very high-risk behavior." You think? Not that the subjects themselves or their family members add much in the way of insight, as witnessed by a recent episode's featured shriek of "I hate alcoholism!"
The best use for "Addicted," frankly, might be to scare dumb teenagers straight. It's sure not docu-science and it's sure not entertainment.
As for "Hoarding: Buried Alive," the less said about it, the better. Like A&E's less dramatic, more didactic "Hoarders," the show invites viewers to gawk at a handful of junk-laden homes. While those hoping to catch glimpses of festering cat crap won't be disappointed, "Hoarding: Buried Alive" doesn't bother to delve into the "why?" behind the behavior it chronicles.
In Act I, it provokes an "OMG, how can anybody live like that???" reaction. In Act II, it provokes a "yay for cleaning people who clean things!" reaction. Next episode, the mess festers anew. Instead of devoting an hour to "Hoarding: Buried Alive," you can get the same effect by staring at something grody, exclaiming "Eww, gross!" and then going about your tidy business.
For those keeping score at home, there are now two shows airing on cable TV which document the plight of people living in clutter and filth. If there's an argument to be made for a la carte cable, this may be it.
The tagline for TLC.com is "Family, Home, Style, Cooking." How "Addicted" and "Hoarding: Buried Alive" advance the brand, I have no idea. Surely there must be a 30-strong foster family of dwarf fashionista cupcake moguls more worthy of the network's invasive caress.