You may be familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller The Long Tail. His book talks about how marketing has changed since the time when the best way to reach your audience was by advertising on the big three networks. The Internet provides the chance to finely target your audience in the long tails of a bell curve, and at a much lower cost. Apparently, cable now provides the opportunity for affordable niche TV programming, resulting in some highly unusual shows.
I must give credit up front to Nat Ives for reporting on this for Advertising Age, a marketer’s favorite trade publication. Difficult as it may be for you to believe, these are all genuine reality TV shows. Trust me, even I could not make this stuff up.
My absolute favorite, and what lured me to Nat’s story, is Hillbilly Handfishin’. It airs on Animal Planet and the promo photos show… well, hillbillies, with huge catfish in their arms. They have apparently dredged these out of the mud on the bottom of the river in which they are immersed up to their gloriously hairy chests. The website includes videos of episodes such as “Noodling Catfish” and “Monster Catfish Wrestling.” Talk about “must see TV!”
Another not-to-be-missed reality show is Spike TV’s Tattoo Nightmares, brought to you by the same folks who unleashed Jersey Shore on us. Nightmares chronicles “the horror stories behind people’s unfortunate tattoos and their attempts to fix them.” The tattoos range “from the hilarious to downright disturbing.” Reenactments demonstrate “how these people wound up with their ink.” Sounds like the stuff that dreams are made of.
A related show that may provide backstory on some of the nightmare tattoos is Tattoo School, coming to TLC. True to its name, TLC provides an educational service for students who want a career in tattooing. School promises they’ll learn in two weeks “what most tattoo artists spend years learning.” Does that mean “Mom” in a heart, and butterflies and “Sue Ellen 4Ever”? Or will they become experts at massive dragons, bald eagles and warriors? The suspense has me on pins and needles.
Speaking of warriors, get your macho on for Full Metal Jousting on the History Channel. The website describes it thusly: “HISTORY is bringing back the most dangerous collision sport in history… but with a twist: Traditional armor is replaced by modern suits of steel. Each episode features full-contact jousts in which jousters charge and collide at 30 miles an hour.” Jousts require courage, strength and “nerves of steel… as this extreme sport is reborn.” Sounds positively medieval.
Look for these last two shows to be merged into a winning spin off: Tattoo Jousting. Contestants on horseback will tattoo one another as they charge and collide. OK, I made this one up. But just this one.
There are numerous reality shows on hoarding, including one from Animal Planet titled: Confessions: Animal Hoarding. As you would expect, there are episodes about cat hoarders (and no, I’m not featured), dog collectors, and fanciers of snakes, lizards and other reptiles. According to profiled hoarder “Pat,” this last group responds to his conversations and he takes his snakes out walking. And I’m not referring to one-eyed trouser snakes.
Yet another popular reality show genre is one that features little people (the PC way to describe what folks used to call dwarfs.) Some of these are on TLC and follow families of little people, including Little People, Big World and The Little Couple. The latter is curiously featured on the TLC website under their section “How Stuff Works.” I didn’t drill down to see more; it sounded like TMI to me.
Finally, there’s Rat Bastards, also on Spike TV. Like a curiously high percentage of reality TV shows, this takes place in Louisiana. There a group of ‘Cajun Commandoes’ “hunt down a nasty invasive species of giant swamp rats wreaking havoc on the Mississippi wetlands.” These rats are actually nutria, a species that was once prized for its fur, but have now become 40-pound menaces. I hope those hunters don’t actually go commando. Those nutria look like they’d get all squirrely over nuts.
I just know that somewhere in this list of shows is your new favorite guilty pleasure. Likewise several future Emmy winners. Or more likely, People’s Choice Awards. It’s almost enough to make me put some money into my retirement budget for cable TV. Don’t hold your breath.