On Monday November 7, AFS will present the latest in its series of free History Of Television evenings, examining the unexplained phenomena documentary show IN SEARCH OF... cohosted by writer and wrestling impresario (!!!) Maximillian Meehan. These events are more than just public screenings of television episodes, they are also informative presentations about the ideological and technical history of the medium itself. Please join us at Austin Public Studios. More information here.
Reality television has seen a gigantic surge of popularity over the last 15-20 years, becoming the most popular programming on television. Relatively inexpensive to produce, it has become foundational to much broadcast and cable television. Naturally, the very term 'reality television' is fraught with contradiction. The genre plays upon our interest in real-world people and situations, while also leavening this "true" content with large amounts of artificiality.
There have been prototypical reality shows on television for many decades. The PBS series AN AMERICAN FAMILY is certainly the shining example here, and was a popular and critical success in 1973.
One of the more fun examples of "reality" content being used liberally for entertainment value is the 1977-1982 documentary series IN SEARCH OF..., hosted by Leonard Nimoy, which purported to be investigative journalism pertaining to such important issues of the day as Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, Dracula, etc. Generally, episodes featured Nimoy on something resembling location, reading portentous copy about this or that mystery, followed by staged interviews with witnesses or experts, (who often sound a lot like actors), and, often by dramatic footage of a ghost or monster captured by the IN SEARCH OF... cameras for the first time ever.
The show, for all its obfuscation of actual facts, is lot of fun, and Nimoy's highly serious narration (and collection of classic blazers and turtlenecks) really goes a long way towards making it that way. Also, the music is the best in '70s jazzy synthesizer funk. When asked about the show decades later, Nimoy went out of his way to praise series creator and producer Alan Landsburg, saying:
"There's one overriding element that made IN SEARCH OF... work, and that was Alan Landsburg. He was a genius where the show was concerned. It was his concept. his vision, and his understanding of how to treat the material that made it work and made it fun to do. Because he scripts always had a certain kind of angularity about them. There was always a certain way of tantalizing people with the subject matter. It made it very entertaining - sometimes educational, sometimes just sheer funny, but always interesting, based on his understanding of how the subject matter should be presented. And it was the granddaddy of all these reality shows you see today. So many of them have been done now, along those lines."
Get ready for this event with some songs from the "In Search Of... Orchestra." The tie-in album, on AVI records is hard to find, but you can hear all the music here.
Also, someone videotaped History Channel reruns of the show and put the (poor quality) versions on YouTube. If you can't make it to the show, or if you just can't wait, then you may want to subject your eyes to a few of these.
If you find you are becoming a little obsessed with IN SEARCH OF... Don't worry. You're not alone. There is also James O'Brien, of Retroist, who is reviewing every episode of the series here.