Archive for the biggest loser

And Finale…

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reality TV, TV channels, TV Culture, TV History, TV News, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2014 by Tom Steward

American TV seems to be in a permanent state of finale. The average season has more false endings than a Hobbit trilogy. Before the Christmas break, there’s the mid-season finale, which desperately tries to manufacture a television event out of a show taking a brief holiday. Some shows have started to invent finales and talk about them as if we somehow know what they’re supposed to signify. Fox’s The Mindy Project has just had its Winter Finale, which is apparently what you now call putting the show on hiatus for a couple of months at the end of January. Season finales only seem like a big deal because all a show’s stories build towards it as a point of climax. In reality, it’s only a matter of months before the show is back on again. Even series finales don’t preclude a show returning through revivals, spin-offs, movie sequels and reunions. The cast of Seinfeld have managed to reunite twice since the sitcom went off the air, firstly in a fictional reunion episode within the world of Curb your Enthusiasm and then in a sketch for this year’s Superbowl coverage. That’s a lot of endings for shows that never quite finish.

Seinfeld cast reunite at superbowl, which is also the name of Jason Alexander’s haircut.

I’ve been thinking about finales because American TV has just had a big one. After 23 years in the host seat, last week Jay Leno finally said goodbye to The Tonight Show. Like most finales, however, nothing is really ending. Jimmy Fallon will take over as host, which has been a forgone conclusion for years now given the high-profile and staggering popularity of his late-night NBC talk show. Few people would be prepared to believe that Leno is even giving up the show. Leno first left the job in 2010 ceding hosting duties to Conan O’Brien. Within a few months, he had clawed back the job from his successor, as acknowledged in O’Brien’s Olympic-themed jab at his predecessor on the eve of Leno’s departure. Yet everyone acted as if something was in fact ending. Leno cried, celebrities queued up to say goodbye, and Garth Brooks played – which really is the nuclear option. The Tonight Show is going back to its home in New York and is now hosted by someone capable (though bafflingly so!) of gaining consistently huge ratings for a show whose popularity has balked in the last decade. Sounds more like a salvage operation than a send-off.

You can never come back from Garth Brooks.

Another American TV finale was in the news recently. The latest season of weight-loss game show The Biggest Loser held its final weigh-in last week, with the winning contestant having undergone a loss of weight so severe that she appeared to have another kind of eating disorder. The usual Muppet-mouthed looks of aghast pride from the trainers were replaced by horror, concern and confusion when they laid their eyes on her emaciated body. The show has always been self-righteous about the good it does for public physical and mental health. Yet by incentivising maximum possible weight loss without any healthy weight caps and filling its contestants’ heads with cod psychobabble in motivational-speak, The Biggest Loser falls prey to the pitfalls of many reality shows in neglecting its responsibilities of care to the members of the public it features. The season finale is usually a cause for self-congratulation as the show parades its reduced-sized versions of that year’s contestants and pats itself on the back for helping them, all the while of course revelling in sensational images of obese people eating cake naked. But this year’s finale revealed the dangerous and unhealthy extremes that the show’s premise could be taken to.

Trainers on The Biggest Loser react to body-shock win!

It’s good to have an end in sight. TV is such a massive and sprawling thing that it’s helpful to set limits and boundaries now and again. But rarely do they actually represent something that could be actually be called an ending. Finales help TV continue, renew and keep track of itself but all their talk of being done for good needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Like The Tonight Show goodbye might just mean adieu and as we’ve seen with The Biggest Loser finales might take you further than ever wanted to go in too short a time. And with that, Watching TV with Americans enters its Valentine’s Finale followed by its mid-mid-year finale. It’s time for me to say an emotional, longwinded goodbye as I leave you…for a couple of weeks. Remember to eat in the meantime and only play Garth Brooks while I’m away.

Opening the Box

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Reviews, TV advertising, TV channels, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 15, 2014 by Tom Steward

In the last few weeks I’ve watched more game shows than at any time in my life. Some of this is pure accident. I’ve been going to the gym at 9 the morning just as the mounted screens capture the moment that network TV is taken over by previously respected comedians taunting hysterical kleptomaniacs dressed as food. Now that I’m working out regularly I can sit through The Biggest Loser without feeling I should be doing so from inside an exercise wheel. It’s also partly about the age of television that we live in. The contestification of reality TV means that if you want to watch a cooking programme you have to endure some laborious competition while foraging for crumbs of culinary information under the table. Plus The Bachelor is back, which is the slowest game of Guess Who? ever played. Here’s some of the winners, losers and returning contestants:


Let’s Make a Deal/The Price is Right (CBS, mornings)

Wayne Brady withholds money from old white lady-you make up the caption!

Essentially the same programme from two parallel dimensions where the only difference is who people liked more on Whose Line is it Anyway?, these two shows feature audiences whose enthusiasm wouldn’t look out of place at the Nuremberg rally attempting to turn their capitalist pre-conditioning into prizes. In the former, incest love-child of Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima Wayne Brady sells the public toxic assets while looking offscreen for his credibility. The latter has the master of weight-to-spectacle ratio Drew Carey rewarding conspicuous consumption. Brady’s fancily dressed studio audience appear to have been plucked from a Twilight Zone episode where it’s Halloween every day and Carey’s contestants are so elated by being selected you’d think the alternative was The Running Man.

The Winner is: Free enterprise.

The Loser is: Market regulation.

Returning Contestant?: Until the gym shows something other than Bones.


The Taste (ABC, Thursdays)

‘Ok is it an animal that flies or grazes?’

It’s quicker to replace the word ‘voice’ with ‘taste’ and apply everything you know about NBC’s The Voice than to describe this primetime cooking competition. Plagiarism aside, The Taste is closer to the spirit of the blind judging concept than its sensually conjoined twin, which has ironically produced more conventional-looking winners than the image-obsessed American Idol. The judges continue to taste blind even after selecting their teams, which often results in publicly humiliating their protégés. It also reveals the astoundingly poor palettes of those in the food industry, as they bemoan the lack of protein in desserts and consistently lose at ‘guess the animal’. The lack of prejudice in the selection process is offset by the judges’ freely expressing their sexism and dietary bigotry.

The Winner is: Whoever gets the leftovers.

The Loser is: Any vegetarian.

Returning Contestant?: For as long as Anthony Bourdain is there.


The Biggest Loser (NBC, Tuesdays)

‘Why do I have to have my shirt off again?’

One mustn’t scoff at an American game show where the prize is better health instead of more stuff. But don’t be naïve enough to think this is public service television. Underneath the noble purpose is a ‘watch fatty jiggle’ voyeurism which forces contestants to turn their bodies into freakshow curiosities before losing weight. The show is padded with needless challenges and needlessly complicated rules tenuously linked to some sort of obesity fable that only makes weight loss harder and more arbitrary. And if the thing you need to lose weight isn’t made by a sponsor, forget it. The ongoing weight loss is undoubtedly a serial hook here, and the perverse satisfaction of seeing a body waste away is what keeps you coming back.

The Winner is: Subway.

The Loser is: Whoever Subway’s competitors are.

Returning Contestant?: Either that or my TV’s screen ratio keeps changing.


The Bachelor (ABC, Mondays)

‘I need that in the form of a question’

If the holiday you won on a game show turned out to be to a leper colony or the games room you risked everything for was just Ker-Plunk in a box, you probably wouldn’t go back as a contestant. However, despite former ‘winners’ chalking up an abysmal tally of estrangements, broken engagements and divorces, people keep wanting to be and wanting to be on The Bachelor(ette). Even having been a contestant seems to be life-threatening these days. Unlike other game shows, The Bachelor(ette) likes to invite its losing contestants back to occupy more senior roles in the programme, like Juan Pablo who was sent home in a previous season and is now the bachelor. It’s like losing Final Jeopardy and then next day replacing Alex Trebek.

The Winner is: Rose-growers.

The Loser is: Divorce statistics.

Returning Contestant?: I’ve watched so much I’ll be the next bachelor.

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