I’m not a big reality TV fan. I’ve never seen an episode of Survivor or Big Brother. I never watched the Bachelorette (though I did watch the first season of The Bachelor.). I do not know the names of any of the Real Housewives of anywhere. I’ve even missed the show my old camp friend, Evan Weinstein, has won seven Emmy Awards producing – The Amazing Race.
This is not to say I don’t ever watch reality TV. I just like either makeover shows, or reality shows that are truly, irrefutably awful. That means I watch What Not to Wear, Tabatha Takes Over, and Jerseylicious, the Style network series about a bunch of inane – but lovable – New Jersey hairdressers. Mind numbingly bad. I love it.
But when I was on a plane to LA recently, there was a Giuliana and Bill marathon on. I had seen a few moments of a few episodes here and there, and thought they should have re-named the show Giuliana and that Guy She Married. And I couldn’t understand why anyone cared. To me Giuliana was a pretty, preternaturally thin b-lister (at best) with an even more preternaturally big head, and Bill was a pretty bland, perfectly nice seeming guy who – aside from the fact that he lives his entire life in front of camera, and won the first Apprentice, seemed generically handsome and kinda boring.
But when you’re trapped on a plane and you’ve finished your book, well, you watch what’s there. And I watched Giuliana and Bill. And here’s the thing: I kinda liked them.
Giuliana (she of the teeny body and huge head), is an Entertainment reporter. Which is to say she had made a career of following the lives of the famous and (mostly) vacuous. Hard hitting news it ain’t. But she’s charming and funny and clearly smart. And driven. Man, is she driven. She’s also trying to have a baby, and it’s not going well.
Not at first. My first thought was – why on earth would these people go on National television with such a personal part of their lives? It’s the epitome of what disturbs me about a lot of reality shows – people are so desperate to be famous that they’ll humiliate themselves, or expose themselves publicly in ways I just don’t want to watch.
Years ago, and for a short time, I worked at A Current Affair (Katchung!), a demoralizing place where we, the media, harassed and exposed unsuspecting people. I quit because I couldn’t take feeling sleazy all the time. Next, I went to Donahue (yes, people, I am THAT old). And that was even more depressing, because the tabloid media is SUPPOSED to be sleazy. It’s supposed to be gossipy and sensationalist. But on Donahue, people came to us. People offered themselves up for humiliation. It was depressing.
So that’s how I was feeling about Giuliana and That Guy From the Apprentice She Married. Until I listened to them. In addition to their glamorous lives – walking the red carpet! opening for Bill Clinton! Hanging with real stars! – they are living an infertility nightmare. Are they doing it for fame, as part of their show? Maybe. But also to help. Infertility is so private, so difficult, so embarrassing. And they are putting a human face on it. They are letting people know they are not alone.
And when things got worse – when they told Giuliana she had breast cancer and she’d need a mastectomy, I figured – well, now she’ll stop the show. But she didn’t. She kept on. And she shared the pain, and fear, and decisions she had to make. When Bill said some thing like “she had to share this. Because if just one girl gets a mammogram because of seeing what we’ve gone through, it will all be worth it,” I thought – Wow, this is what reality TV can be: real. Helpful. Important. Who knew?
This is good reality TV: Nice people. People who clearly, truly, love each other, facing hard times. It’s courageous. Heroic, even. To let millions of people see you at your worst – in the hopes of helping someone else be their best.
Now the couple has announced they are having a baby via surrogate. Another highly personal life-event that will benefit others to see. I couldn’t be more happy for them.
So Giuliana and Bill. Not a guilty pleasure to virtually know you. Just a pleasure.