I have a list. It’s already a long list and, now and then, I add to it. But it’s never put in writing. I keep it safely out of sight, in my head.
What’s on my list? Names of entertainment has-beens desperate for a comeback. Names of stars with dimming wattage who miss the spotlight. Names of show-biz attention hogs.
Each of these names seems ripe to be the focus of a TV reality series.
I won’t specify any of the names I’m thinking of. I can’t risk an entry from my list falling into the wrong hands — like the TV producers who put this kind of show on the air. I don’t want to be responsible for giving them any ideas.
Not that those producers don’t have their own lists, which they draw from, as opportunities arise, seizing name by regrettable name.
Names like Paula Abdul, the “American Idol” judge who concludes her daze-in-the-life Bravo series, “Hey Paula,” on Thursday.
Or Scott Baio, the bygone teen heartthrob now acting out a mid-life crisis on “Scott Baio is 45 ... and Single,” which airs Sunday on VH1.
Or filmdom’s 1980s-era fun couple, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, wistfully recalling past glory in “The Lost Boys” 20 years ago as they reunite for “The Two Coreys,” which premiered Sunday on A&E.
But wait, there’s lots more TV celebreality!
We can watch “Gene Simmons: Family Jewels” with the veteran rock performer on A&E. VH1’s “Hogan Knows Best,” with pro wrestler Hulk Hogan. “My Life on the D-List” with standup comic Kathy Griffin on Bravo. Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie living “The Simple Life” on E!
These follow in the footsteps of Tommy Lee, Victoria Gotti, the Osbournes, Danny Bonaduce, Tom Sizemore, Ashlee Simpson and the late Anna Nicole Smith.
And don’t forget celebreality twosomes Britney Spears and Kevin Federline; Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson; Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston — all of them now kaput. (And all fair warning to young marrieds Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott, whose “Tori & Dean: Inn Love” begins a second season soon on Oxygen.)
Celebreality TV promises to give the viewer the inside truth about fame, while revealing its stars’ private side. But this “private world” is largely manufactured and remarkably self-conscious. It comes with camera crews. It’s a case of bait-and-switch, with its stars playing made-for-TV knockoffs of themselves.
Not that anyone should fault them for this masquerade. It gets them on TV, and most of these people have nothing to lose.
The formula is simple. Start with a name from the list, then settle on a high-concept narrative. Be ready to bill the show as something akin to the truth (A&E calls “The Two Coreys” an “original real-life series”). Then ... roll ’em!
Here’s aimless single guy Haim crashing at the home of Feldman and his wife, as Haim jealously competes with her for Feldman’s affections. (“SHE’S not part of The Coreys,” Haim whines. “She never WILL be!”)
Here’s Abdul, whose show clings to this premise: She’s on “American Idol,” a huge hit, so she must be fascinating.
On “Hey Paula,” she’s busy all right. She makes a red carpet appearance here, a gala tribute there. She hawks her tchotchkes on QVC. She logs a lot of frequent-flier miles.
What she doesn’t do enough of is sleep. This, according to her, is why she sometimes acts a little daffy. Then the media come up with other, hurtful theories for her aberrant behavior. Then she gets very upset.
“I’m not this crybaby that cries for no reason,” she sobs to her staff after a round of bad press. “This is big stuff!”
Baio's lady problems
Baio has problems, too. On losing his virginity with “Joanie Loves Chachi” co-star Erin Moran, he spent his teens, 20s, 30s and early 40s chasing one busty, blond bombshell after another. Now he worries: Has the time come for him to settle down?
But despite his pledge to viewers that “everything you’re about to see ... is real,” even the title of his show is fudged. Scott Baio may indeed be 45, but he’s not single. He has been in a relationship for more than a year. So the real question is: Will Baio tie the knot with his “basically perfect” girlfriend, Renee, or resume his old habits of “running and gunning”?
When he’s not working with a relationship “life coach” to explore his issues with commitment, Baio confronts other chores real actors do, like dropping by his agent’s office.
“I really need to have a private conversation with you,” his agent greets him.
They duck into a “private” conference room, trailed by the camera. There his agent cautions Baio not to let his reality show harm his career.
“You’re a great actor,” says his agent, insisting they must guard against letting the show “take anything away from that.”
“You’re asking me this NOW?” says Baio, looking flustered. “The horses have left the barn!”
Or to put it another way: Baio, for the moment, is back on TV. And so are many others just like him, taking the plunge into celebreality, and simulating real life as they artificially enhance their fame. I bet the people on my list would love to be right there with them.