I can't quite explain why, but somehow I've become a fan of other people's misfortune. It's not exactly schadenfreud because I don't take pleasure in it; I just don't mind witnessing it.
There's no other way to understand why I watch Intervention and Obsessed on A&E TV. If you haven't seen them, the shows are exactly what they sound like. Intervention follows the addictions of one or more subjects over the course of an hour, including interviews with his or her family and friends, and glimpses into their daily lives. (Subjects believe they are participating in a documentary about addiction.) Each episode concludes with an intervention, and the person profiled faces a choice about going to some sort of rehabilitation facility or rejecting the offer for help. The closing minutes usually feel a little too game-show-ish for such a serious problem but I watch it anyway.
Obsessed follows a similar formula, but instead of someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, the show profiles someone dealing with an addictive behavior that is debilitating and often bizarre. Unlike Addiction, the people profiled on Obsessed receive counseling throughout the episode. The effectiveness of that counseling is debatable from show to show and person to person.
A&E must believe they're onto something. They've just launched a new show called Hoarders. According to their website, "Each 60-minute episode of Hoarders is a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis."
I've watched this show a few times and have a one word review to share: wow. The episode that showed the clean up crew removing something like 40 + cat skeletons they discovered in a woman's home and in her garage just about did me in. A number of the live cats they removed from her "care" suffered from fatal illnesses and other were poorly nourished and in questionable health.
Okay, let's recap then. Addicts of different kinds, people dealing with some kind of OCD and people who have a problem letting go of possessions. What's next? What's the next "disorder du jour" that can attract a national audience?
Personally, I think it's time for A&E to lighten up a bit, or at least take this in a new direction. Here are some suggestions for a couple of new shows:
Walk Away from Facebook: This show profiles people who can't seem to stop updating their Facebook pages on at least a twice-an-hour basis. On the show, experts will explain to those suffering from this affliction that not one of their friends or acquaintences has spent so much as one minute wondering what they ate for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Other topics explored include: how many Facebook quizzes can you take before it starts to feel like too many? How many "status updates" can you cut and paste into your own profile in the name of solidarity without looking like a mindless automaton?
Apology Wednesday: An unending series of apologies coming from an unending stream of prominent people who should know better but don't. This show may actually need to air twice a week, once on Tuesday (to gather up all the weekend mayhem and put it to rest) and again on Friday to clean up the bad behavior that took place all week. Viewers can vote of who gave the lamest apology that week and who gave the most heartfelt, with the "winners" from each week continuing on to an apology faceoff at the end of the season. There could also be a regular segment called "Great Apologies in History," and include John Lennon explaining his "more popular than Jesus" comment, Jimmy Swaggert's tearful admission of adultery, and the complete Oprah episode featuring writer James Frey.
Blogger's Block: In a series of interviews, this show will profile several bloggers, whose readership is questionable at best, and uncover the many ideas they scribbled down, the articles they've saved, and the web links they've bookmarked all in the name of "writing about them tonight."
I have one more show idea to pitch, I just need to figure out a title for the condition that combines soaring confidence with relentless self-doubt, spurts of energy with bouts of inertia and inexplicable optimism with brooding discontent. A perfect description of my daily life.