This month’s cover depicts a typical-looking American family doing something typically American: gathering around to watch television (although I’m not sure how many families still do that). The twist, of course, is the camera filming them — as they watch themselves watching themselves, and so on.
Reality television is more pervasive than ever. According to a recent Neilsen study, the genre is both the fastest growing and most widely offered type of programming across the spectrum; it should be no surprise when some of our own make their way into the spotlight’s glare.
Writer Julie Edgar sat down with Amy and Todd Franklin of Huntington Woods to hear how their lives changed after the couple, along with their two daughters, stepped onto the small screen — and their issues stepped into our living rooms.
In 2010, the Franklins appeared on Losing It With Jillian, a Biggest Loser spin-off on NBC whose star, Jillian Michaels, seeks to imbue healthy eating habits into that week’s family through yelling, embarrassment, threats and — as the story arc goes — redemption; all while peeling away any vestige of privacy the family may have enjoyed prior to airing.
I recently rewatched the episode (thanks, YouTube), and had the same reaction I did after it first aired: I could never do that. This column is “out there” enough for me.
And yet, whatever ugly truths or unseemly traits came to light about the Franklins during filming, anyone who has seen either Amy or Todd in the last 13 months — knowing where they started versus where they are today — can attest to the impact Michaels had on the couple. Todd told me he and Amy have lost a combined 120 lbs.
Whether you’re a fan of reality programming — or think its soda pop for the brain — it’s not going anywhere; it’s actually been a part of commercial programming since the medium’s inception.
(Although, in television’s vanguard, said offerings were called talent or game shows.)
In the late 1980s, when a little show called Cops made its debut on a then-fledgling FOX network, the reality show genre we have come to know took its familiar shape.
You can actually blame the writers of TV’s then-predominant offerings — sitcoms, dramas, etc. — for Cops and, by extension, the prevailing look of much of today’s reality programming. A Writers Guild of America strike in 1988 forced the networks to scramble and find inexpensive, union-free content. Cops, with its gritty camcorder perspective and cinema verite feel, set the template many shows still use.
In the vein of full disclosure, I have known the Franklins for several years and think highly of them both. Todd and I traveled to Ukraine together — twice — as members of a Federation-sponsored leadership exchange program. (If traveling to and around Ukraine together — twice — can’t cement a friendship, I’m not sure what can.)
Amy, co-owner of the now-shuttered Sprout children’s clothing shop in Royal Oak, was actually the Franklin I knew first. I would occasionally go into her shop and admire the kick-ass kid’s T-shirts while she shmoozed about the Grateful Dead. She and then-partner Lauren Slutsky had a great little place that I still miss.
(Slutsky, along with sisters Michelle Bone and Erica Hunt, later reopened under the name Love Child.)
Whether or not you embrace your inner moth — finding attraction in fame’s flame — reality television seems poised to continue finding ever darker, cornier and voyeur-friendly corners to cast its light upon.
Om for a Cause
Next month, Red Thread magazine will be hosting Yoga in the Greenhouse, a three-hour event bringing together some of Detroit’s best yoga instructors to help raise money for Yad Ezra, the kosher food bank.
Planned for Sunday, Sept. 18, at the sprawling Planterra greenhouse complex on Drake Road in West Bloomfield, the event will also have area vendors showcasing their New Age-ish offerings. Details will appear in September’s edition.
Conceived as a way to both raise money for a worthwhile charity and give the community another choice of activity, Yoga in the Greenhouse should be a good time; and will hopefully raise much-needed money for Michigan’s only kosher food pantry.
We are entering the dog days of summer*, when escaping the oppressive heat is top of mind. But take a moment to drink in the sunshine and embrace the sticky air — autumn’s crisp, crimson-inspiring winds will soon visit our succahs.
*Why are the waning days of summer known as the “dog days”? Go to RT’s Facebook page and tell us your answer.