I’m not a big one for practical jokes, nor am I a particularly big fan of that sub-genre of the TV game show called reality TV. My favorite shows are scripted — even if it’s just the opening monologue.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not such a snob that I’ll claim I never watch the stuff. I do. Probably enough to be embarrassing.

I’ve watched The Apprentice, Joe Millionaire, Project Greenlight, and American Idol.

I also like more ordinary game shows. I watch Jeopardy a lot. And Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

I watch a lot of older stuff on Game Show Network, like Hollywood Squares, Lingo, The Weakest Link, Russian Roulette and Friend or Foe. That last show — where the best liar won — you practically had to have a criminal record to have been a contestant on.

I really love the old black-and-white panel shows they occasionally show late-night on GSN from the 50’s and early 60’s — I’ve Got A Secret, To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line? My God, some of those old panel shows were what I imagine it would have been like to attend an Algonquin Club salon. What’s My Line? with Bennett Cerf sitting there in a tuxedo next to Dorothy Kilgallen in an evening gown — at other times David Niven, Woody Allen, Johnny Carson, or Steve Allen. How cool is that?

Then there are all the court shows. I love watching Marilyn Milian on The People’s Court pretending to be a real judge, sitting behind the big wooden bench in robes, swearing in the contestants, and her verbally abusing the “litigants” as if she has real power. Why, the woman is so good a method actress I think she actually believes she’s a real judge instead what she really is, Wink Martindale in black robes! They send ropers out to court house halls to recruit contestants. I don’t know if they actually tell the “litigants,” when they get them to dismiss their small-claims suits and go on the show, that win or lose they’ll make money. But you do realize that her “judgment” on each “case” is merely dividing her game show’s prize money between the competing contestants? They work hard at keeping that little fact on the down low in quickly disappearing closing credits.

In the old days the way ordinary people could get on national TV was either to have enough talent that they could make it onto the Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour or Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, or get picked as a contestant on a quiz show, or have an unusual occupation or secret for one of the panel shows, or maybe have Allen Funt pull a gag on them on the original reality show, Candid Camera.

Maybe it’s not so different today. Instead of Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts there’s American Idol. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and Wheel of Fortune still need ordinary people as contestants. Instead of panels of celebrities bantering with each other in black and white we got to see celebrities bantering on The Hollywood Squares. Since that was too tame, we more recently got to see Joan Rivers and Annie Duke try to tear each other’s livers out on The Celebrity Apprentice. Then instead of Candid Camera invading someone’s privacy for a few minutes, the TV crew moved in with them for weeks or months, as they dated, or tried to lose weight, or competed to be a supermodel, or one-upped each other in what disgusting things they would swallow on some deserted island — just a few feet away from the lavish craft services and catering the crew was chowing down on.

Andy Warhol said in 1968, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Reality TV is an entire genre of mass entertainment based on Warhol’s premise. Warhol’s estate should be paid royalties.

Maybe so should Jimmy Durante’s estate. Durante was famous for saying, “Everybody wants to get into the act!”

Art Linkletter had a show called Art Linkletter’s House Party in which he made famous the phrase, “Kids say the darndest things!” Still alive at 97, maybe Linkletter should be phoned up to tell us what we already know — that to get on TV, “Grown-ups will do the darndest things!

On October 15th, 2009, a Fort Collins, Colorado actor, stand-up comic, and producer named Richard Heene — who had appeared with his wife Mayumi on the ABC network reality TV series Wife Swap — attempted what he obviously thought was a brilliant publicity stunt to try to sell his own reality series, The Science Detectives, to The Learning Channel. He had a large balloon that looked like a UFO, and launched it. But Richard and Mayumi went a step too far and called 911, telling them their six-year-old son, Falcon, had climbed aboard the balloon and was adrift in the air. As a publicity stunt it worked perfectly. The cable news networks and other news shows followed the balloon’s flight live for hours, as rescue crews attempted to determine if there was a child at risk of falling to his death.

Eventually, the balloon landed. No boy aboard. Then Falcon was found safe, and Falcon offered up a cover story — he’d been hiding. Then Falcon threw up during an interview on national TV, the threads of the kid’s parentally coached cover story came apart, and a few weeks later Richard Heene pled guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant, while Mayumi still faces a misdemeanor charge of false reporting to authorities.

Now to listen to the TV pundits and radio talk shows, the Heene’s were the Manson Family. How dare these wannabes pull a stunt that gave the networks through-the-roof ratings when it wasn’t even Sweeps Week? Excuse me, but we have our own people to come up with publicity stunts and don’t appreciate the competition from rank amateurs!

But look, if we can get our cameras into prison with you, are you interested?

Tiger Woods isn’t a celebrity wannabe but a world-class celebrity. His problem isn’t too little publicity but too much. When the golf legend recently got into a single-car accident that scraped him up — ultimately it cost him a $164 traffic ticket and four points on his driver’s license (I wonder if Tiger can dump the points by attending traffic school?) — the tabloid media treated it like the Phil Spector murder case. Then it came out that a tabloid had earlier blackmailed Tiger into giving a sister publication a cover photo of the sports great by threatening to reveal an affair. Er, isn’t that legally extortion — an actual felony? Who’s dogging them about that? Then they even broke the blackmail deal and revealed the affair anyway. But, of course, whenever anyone asks the tabloids about their moral failings they’re all, “But that’s private!” The tabloid media can get into everyone else’s private shit but their private shit is sacred. What bogus hypocrites.

Then we have the case of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, from Virginia, who allegedly gate-crashed a White House state dinner between President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on November 24, 2009. They even got onto the receiving line and got their picture taken shaking President Obama’s hand!

Michaele Salahi was a reality TV hopeful trying to get on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of D.C.. Maybe they thought this would help … or at least get them a fat check from The Inquirer. But Michaele and Tareq’s story is they showed up at the White House not knowing whether their request to be on the guest list had been granted or not, and the Secret Service let them in.

Now, of course, that it’s a big news story, the Secret Service — being shown up as somewhat less than stellar in keeping out people who aren’t supposed to get within miles of the President — are all huffy and puffy that this guy with the Arabic name should be charged with violating federal Homeland Security laws.

Hey, guys. News flash. Michaele and Tareq didn’t pull a gun on the President. Tareq wasn’t wearing a suicide belt. They got some free food. The President is reported as being pissed. Sure thing. The Democratic Party got rooked out of its usual five- or six-figure “contribution” for buying a fancy photo-op with the Prez. I’d love to see them try to collect their graft.

But a federal crime for attending a party without being on the guest list?

If this had been World War II and a well-dressed couple had crashed a reception with President Roosevelt, the only thing that would have happened is FDR asking the Secret Service if they had let in a Republican couple. Otherwise, FDR would have gotten a nice laugh out of it on an otherwise depressing day.

I’ll bet Richard Nixon, at the height of the Vietnam War protests, would have told the Secret Service to let it slide, too.

If President Obama is truly angry, he has no sense of proportion about what’s presidential-level important.

Listen, we have to lighten the fuck up. Times are tough right now. People are out of work, looking for ways to pay their bills, and will do lots of strange things to try to make a buck.

It’s an example of what’s gone wrong with this country when even the most minor infraction against the Almighty Government and its hypersensitive, arrogant, officious public servants is blown all out of proportion, and government-worshiping pundits in the tabloid media blow every minor thing up into what we used to call a Federal Case. We used to say “Don’t make a federal case out of it” because not everything was. People had a sense of proportion and some common sense. They understood the difference between a crime and people just being stupid or luckless.

As Brian Shoemake most cogently wrote at American Thinker, maybe we should just call Michaele and Tareq “undocumented guests” and put them on the welfare rolls.

And perhaps even more cogently, I’d like to suggest that there are all sorts of other things we shouldn’t make a federal case out of: car companies, health care, and the production of energy. Overall I’d like to make a whole lot fewer things federal cases.

Yes, it was bad for the Heene’s to send rescue authorities on a wild goose chase after their kid. So the reasonable response in a free society would have been for the rescue authorities whose time and resources were wasted to file a civil suit against the Heene’s for their damages, and if the Heene’s couldn’t afford to pay the bill, have Richard do his stand-up comedy act to raise money for the police and firefighters’ widows and orphans fund. But a felony conviction? That’s what you give people who rape, murder, or rob armored cars.

Michaele and Tareq should get off scot-free. Whether or not they thought they were on the guest list or whether it was a publicity stunt, it was harmless. The only thing they actually did was alert Secret Service to a hole in the security around the President.

Given that the threats on the current Oval Office inhabitant are up 400% from the previous one, maybe the President should even invite Michaele and Tareq back to the White House for a beer. Michaele and Tareq may actually have saved President Obama’s life from future gate-crashers who do have mayhem on their minds.

My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available for sale or rental on Video On Demand. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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