America has spoken, and it doesn't give a fig for O-Town -- or at least the group of the same name. "Making the Band," the "reality drama" that follows eight amateur entertainers who vie for spots in Orlando's latest teen-pop combo, has met with such lousy ratings that it was pulled from ABC-TV's lineup during the crucial May sweeps. It's to return May 26, but don't count on it to ever complete the 22-episode run that was planned.
In floating what was essentially a locally based extension of their "Real World" series, the folks at MTV Networks (who had a hand in the show's production) obviously bought into the oft-stated beliefs that our city is a rapidly expanding metropolis (true) and the next big thing on the nation's cultural map (false). The indifference that greeted the finished product might be seen as a stinging rebuke of those philosophies.
The flaw in that theory? There hasn't been that much of Orlando on view in "Making the Band" anyway, at least not the Orlando in which most of us live, work and play. Instead, the six installments we've seen thus far were carefully devised to present Central Florida as an idyllic but narrowly glimpsed playground of show-biz fulfillment, with Trans Continental Entertainment magnate Louis Pearlman the benevolent Big Poppa who makes it all happen.
Thus, nearly all of the action was confined to the plush TransCon offices and rehearsal facilities, and the dream house Pearlman secured for his young charges to occupy during their stay. "To live in the jungle is phenomenal," O-Town contender Bryan Chan enthused as he surveyed its lush foliage.
Views of the urban jungle were less common. When they weren't learning dance steps or polishing their vocals, the boys' extracurricular activities were restricted to stops at tourist-driven locales like Downtown Disney and Universal Studios CityWalk. (Only the former was identified by name; what else could one expect on the Mouse-owned ABC?) In episode No. 3, some members of the posse took an unauthorized trip to the Inkredible Ink tattoo parlor on Orange Avenue. The segment was tightly edited, almost totally bereft of exterior establishing shots. We can't be showing all of those panhandlers and empty storefronts on nationwide TV, can we?
And who has time to worry about poverty when Big Poppa is around to provide a handout? Nearly every character on the program took it as a fait accompli that relocating to the land of TransCon was an instant ticket to fame and (especially) riches. For all of their desire to follow in the footsteps of the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, the O-Towners appeared uninformed of the legal battles those groups have fought with their former Svengali. Ikaika Kahoano, the Hawaiian hopeful who was the program's most level-headed entity, faced pressure from his own family not to walk away from the alleged gold mine by returning home to continue his education and spend time with his girlfriend, Malia. Anyone familiar with the music industry -- and its teen-exploitation substrain in particular -- could see that his chances at a successful future rested squarely on medical school and marriage, not a boy-band crapshoot.
Watching episode No. 6 was like witnessing a car crash as it unfolds before one's eyes. There was Pearlman, handing out the golden-goose recording contracts and mush-mouthing his way through an unsatisfactory, circular-logic explanation of why they needed to be signed ASAP -- not just by the five winners who would later be picked as band members, but by the three runners-up as well. If nothing else, you had to admire his chutzpah.
The elated aspirants' eyes lit up when they read of the $40,000 advance they would receive against their first album. (Know why it's called an "advance," fellas? Because you won't see a penny of profit until it's repaid in full.) In a lone nod to sanity, Jacob Underwood admitted that signing on the dotted line "could end up screwing us for the next 10 years." Put that kid on the phone to George Michael, then do him a favor and buy him a plane ticket out of town.
As early as the second episode, the conflicted Kahoano was beginning to reject the shallow artifice with which he was surrounded. He was referring to his housemates womanizing, but he could have been speaking of "Making the Band" in general when he said, "I don't want to delve into that world. I like my world."
In New York, Los Angeles and Altoona, the reaction to Pearlman's Orlando was much the same.