Between Stephen Baldwin remaking his career as a famous-brother-for-hire (he’s upgraded from Celebrity Mole to Celebrity Apprentice!) and a shockingly unhealthy Jeff Conaway enduring his detox in front of a prime-time audience on Celebrity Rehab, you might say reality TV’s business of exploiting C-list performers is turning into a tawdry Circus of the Stars. But you’d be wrong — it’s actually two circuses. Both ABC and NBC hope to revive the ’80s nostalgia act with ”stars” performing acrobatic stunts. VH1 plans to chime in with Celebracadabra (famous people doing magic tricks), CBS has unveiled Secret Talents of the Stars (famous people doing party tricks?), and producer Michael Davies (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) is developing The World’s Strongest Celebrity. This, it seems, is a trend without end.
Who knew, watching Ozzy Osbourne paw ineffectually at his TV clicker on MTV’s The Osbournes in 2002, that the rocker’s sad but deliciously compelling struggle would launch a celebsploitation industry? Today there’s no shortage of down-at-their-heels stars happy to overshare for the camera: We know how much Tiffany weighs, what drugs Danny Bonaduce has done, and exactly where Bobby Brown’s hands have been. Not that we’re judging — our addiction to these shows makes us complicit. Still, how about some quality control? We’re fascinated by celebs in their pseudo-natural habitats — trading on their fame (Celebrity Apprentice), kicking booze (Celebrity Rehab), dieting (Celebrity Fit Club), and puttin’ on a show (Dancing With the Stars). But magic tricks and big tents? When TV stretches credulity on celebrities’ innate talents (see: Armed & Famous), it stretches our patience.
Sadly, that doesn’t mean we won’t be watching one of the lesser Growing Pains kids work a trapeze in a few months. If the TV strike drags on, we’ll have no choice. At least that’s what we’ll tell ourselves when we’re setting our TiVo’s season pass.