This is the episode I had dreaded watching and reliving. When I've followed reality-competition shows in the past (such as Project Runway and Top Chef, from the same Magical Elves production company as America's Next Producer), I tend to hate it when everyone fails. I actually like to see the contestants produce impressive work, whether it's fashion or food or even TV. The drama of failure can be memorable, but boy, is it painful to observe. And it's even worse in person.
The looks on our faces as we screen the late-night dating show "Click" (or as I retitled it: "Ick!") aren't made up for the camera. It's genuine horror and dismay at realizing how the team was unable to keep this project, and themselves, from crashing and burning. Despite what you may have heard about professional critics, we take no joy in watching bad TV, even if ripping it can give cathartic pleasure to author and reader alike. We want what we see to be good. I certainly felt that way throughout the experience of judging the work on this show. "Click" is so dreadful it actually leaves David Hill momentarily speechless. We all agree that's a first.
But honestly, if I'd seen everything that was going on during this episode, I might have made an argument for sending two home this week: the combative odd couple of Evie and Zo. Watching Zo basically check out of this challenge, leaving his nemesis Evie to hang in the wind, and then the ugly and abusive confrontation upstairs during the judges' deliberations, a scene that looked like something out of Big Brother: Not a good week for this talented guy, who (as guest judge J.D. Roth put it) "can't get out of the way of himself." As I noted during the question-and-answer session, I couldn't help but feel that Zo set Evie up this week and that he allowed the game to get in the way of what was best for the entire team this week. We weren't given the double-elimination option by the show's producers. But looking back, I almost wish we had been.
Speaking of our guest judge, the eternally boyish J.D. Roth (who I remember from when he used to host kids' game shows): Talk about a busy guy. During this day of deliberation, the Tuesday of Upfront Week in May, he's constantly on the phone or checking his messages, and for good reason. He's juggling at least a dozen reality-TV projects in various states of development and production (at the time, he was well underway on NBC's summer show Age of Love and VH1's ongoing Scott Baio is 45 . . . And Single), and at least 34 editing bays across town are working overtime to keep up with the demand for the type of show he's making. (Some of the other shows he's involved with include Beauty and the Geek, The Biggest Loser and the acclaimed Discovery Kids/NBC series Endurance.)
He is the perfect judge for this challenge. He has seen these sorts of shows done well, and done badly. But maybe never THIS badly. He nails what's wrong with "Click" from every angle, from the incessant porn-quality music to the phoniness of the execution. I'm glad he can focus on the technical side, because I'm too busy shuddering at how creepy it all is, especially the blindfolded part with the sniff and smell tests. (My fingers begin to shrivel even as I type this.)
Here's a bit from a memorable exchange during our deliberations that you didn't see. In describing the passion and energy that's required to pull off even this sort of guilty-pleasure programming, J.D. tells us an anecdote about how a network once called him over the weekend in need of a certain type of reality project but that they'd need to see a tape with a pitch presentation on Monday. J.D. rallied his troops, his resources and got it done. And, more important, he got it on the air. J.D. then says that from what he could see this week, these contestants are playing checkers when what's being required from them is their best chess game. I add that, given Evie's defeated demeanor during this entire elimination round, she's not even playing checkers. She's playing Sorry. It's not hard to decide that it's finally her week to go.
Final note from a reality-TV judge's diary: The morning of this elimination taping, I had yet another experience of reality worlds colliding, which apparently happens a lot if you spend enough time in L.A. Because the Internet had temporarily gone down in the apartment complex where I was staying, I headed to the business office to use one of their computers (which were working) to check in back at the office and to blog on ABC's just-announced fall schedule. As I'm typing away, I look up to see who has joined the line waiting for computers. None other than Bruno Tonioli, the most effusive of the Dancing With the Stars judges (which was then in its next-to-last week of production). The Dancing With the Stars judges were staying in my complex (very near CBS Television City, which makes sense), and I didn't even know it? Weird. I'm happy to say he waited his turn quietly, not acting the diva at all.
Just another reminder of how small a town Hollywood can sometimes seem.