Article in the post standard..myob

WCNY's reality TV is weird

Monday, January 15, 2007

There's something inherently flawed with a reality television show that has the potential to do some actual good in the world. I mean, why mess with the proven Three B's of the genre bullying, back stabbing and bare flesh?

Yet there was WCNY-TV last week, hosting a media preview for its new reality show, "Mind Your Own Business." Small-business owners from Central New York will vie for $50,000 without being required to swap spouses, eat rodent turds, hold their breath to the point of passing out, mash with multiple roommates, starve or even see who can watch Tel-Auc the longest without going insane. They just have to develop a compelling business plan and sell it to the judges.

Small wonder that the only non-WCNY media member in attendance was a certain humor columnist, without credentials, lured to the South Side Innovation Center by the promise of free food and drink.

The 10-part show will run 7 p.m. Sundays, starting Jan. 21. The man behind it, Alan Wright, is a British film and television producer whose company produced the kilt flick "Rob Roy," starring Liam Neeson.

Sounds plausible enough, right? Take some aspiring CNY businesspeople. Dress them in kilts. Have them flee a hungry panther or two and get Neeson to host. Presto! Hit reality show.

But that's not what Wright wants.

"Mind Your Own Business," he said, will seek to encourage small-business growth by putting a spotlight on young companies striving to expand. It will be similar to a series he developed in Ireland in the 1980s that helped reverse that country's economic malaise. Contestants will be "regular people."

Does that mean viewers won't even get to hear smug judges tell the losers how much they suck? Correct. The show won't "ridicule or antagonize" anyone, Wright vowed. The point will be to demystify the business start-up process and inspire confidence in the region's economy. "If at the end of the series 100 people are motivated to start their own business and invest $20,000 each, that's $2 million into the economy and 200 employees," he said.

Good luck pitching that to Fox.

Wright then showed a preview of what I'll confess looked like an entertaining show, its fixation with the public good not withstanding. The preview included a profile of an Ithaca company, Take Flight Goose Management, that uses border collies to frighten geese from fields, so they poop elsewhere. It was riveting television. But why not show the dogs herding disgraced beauty-pageant winners into a double-wide occupied by Bill Clinton? Now that's reality TV.

In another segment, contestant Darin Price explained how he founded Right Price Companies Inc. a Syracuse supplier of office equipment and furniture after spending years as a corrections officer.

"My best day working for someone else doesn't compare to my worst day working for myself," he said.

And that was pretty much it. There was no eating larvae. No fights. No one proclaimed a seismic shift in their sexuality. The whole concept seems weird.

Just weird enough to work.

Jeff Kramer's humor column runs Mondays and Fridays in CNY. Reach him at

Elizabeth Schoonmaker
Town of Plainfield
Otsego County, NY


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