Sure, on the surface, the proposed Running Man reboot sounds like a can't-miss proposition, a seamless blending of America's two current favorite pastimes: reality TV and recycling ideas from the '80s. There's just one problem.
Running Man — as in the show the movie is about* — is the wrong kind of reality TV. Oh, and there's one more problem, too:
To the best of my knowledge, no one has seriously proposed remaking The Running Man. I made that up to get you to click. Sorry about that. That said, it's surely only a matter of time before someone does start mulling it over, so consider this a preemptive strike.
As I was saying, The Running Man highlights the wrong kind of reality TV. Audiences of the future would never go for it, if they're anything like audiences of today. Because while audiences of today do love Personal Triumph Over Overwhelming Odds (which The Running Man has in spades), as well as Terrible People Doing Awful Things (another of its hallmarks), and while they have no problem with, or even register any awareness of, Misleading Editing on the Part of a Show's Producers (on which the film's plot hinges), one thing they hate is People Getting Killed For Real.
This might not have been so clear in 1987, when The Running Man was released. Back then, it felt like half of primetime — Hunter, The Equalizer, Simon & Simon, Crockett and Tubbs, the Scarecrow, even Mrs. King — was packing steel, and if you followed that trend to its logical conclusion, it was easy to imagine widespread disregard for human life spilling over into the real world, too. Tack the TV listings to the wall today, though, and toss a dart at them, and odds are far better you'll hit a show about making soufflés than shooting bad guys. Heck, even the one faintly (and I stress that) sinister reality program, Survivor — well, is that still on? It is, apparently, but ratings-wise, it's no Dancing With the Stars.
So, no. If the most intense conflict that most viewers can handle now involves a group of people known as "cheftestants," we're not going to tune in to watch anyone get gunned down in cold blood, not any time soon. At the same time, it seems equally unlikely that Western civilization is going to stop declining. Here, then, are a few of the not so violent, but still sublimely asinine reality series I'm sure we'll see before God or His servant, the four-foot Cthulhu worm, are kind enough to put us out of our misery:
Scoring With the Spur Posse. What two elements of reality TV are more proven successes than (1) bringing back people who were famous a decade ago but aren't anymore and (2) sex? This show combines both.
Up for grabs is membership in that early-'90s version of the Rat Pack, the (reunited) Spur Posse. As one of the competing dudes, all you have to do is score more points than the other contestants by sleeping with more girls. Potential challenges include the Three-Way Challenge, the Friend's Sister Challenge, and the Convincing Her to Have Sex With All the Guys in the Posse, Too Challenge. Bonus points for cockblocking an opponent, and even more bonus points if you manage to score with the girl you blocked him from, bro. The second season, in which half the contestants are female (yes, they're trying to have sex with girls too), sees unprecedented ratings, and the unfiltered extra material available online earns record traffic for Spike TV's website.
Make Me a Topless Dancer. Are you pretty, but self-aware enough to know you're never going to be anywhere's next top model? Do you have too much dignity to be a Pussycat Doll? This is your show.
I can't think of any celebrity strippers, so who will host it? Probably Lindsay Lohan. The challenges here should be fairly clear-cut: learning to work the pole, selling the most private dances, smoothly removing a customer's belt and then fastening it around his neck like a collar, before leading him on all fours around the stage while spanking him. The heartbreak at the end of each episode, though, when one contestant is forced to turn in her Lucite platform heels to Lindsay and then is shown crying in the confessional booth about how she'll never be able to pay for med school now — devastating.
Flame Wars. Take ten Internet users. Stick them together in a house somewhere with a gorgeous climate and all sorts of places to visit and fun activities to take part in nearby.
Then give the contestants each their own computer and have teams employed by the producers (these teams will be posing as single, anonymous individuals, of course) start arguments with them on random message boards, about pretty much anything. Never let the contestants get the last word in, no matter how late it gets or how long the fight goes on. The first of the ten with the presence of mind and willpower to leave the house for at least an hour (and then not get sucked back into the fight when they come back) wins.
I Want to Be on a Reality Show. This, I think, is the inevitable omega point of reality television. As it currently stands, thousands — shit, possibly millions of people desperately want to be on reality shows so that they can be hairstylists, or fashion designers, or dancers, or comedians, or lose weight, or just get married.**
There's only so much TV time, though, so there'll have to be a way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Or rather, the chaff from the even chaffier. The winner gets to be on the program of his or her choice. The losers...
The losers get hunted by opera-singing Stalkers who shoot lightning at them, actually. America might never be ready to watch that happen on TV, but that doesn't mean we can't do it without the cameras.
Commenter Moff's real name is Josh Wimmer, and like Buzzsaw, he had to split. He can usually be found at scribblescribblescribble.com/blog.
*I should probably note here that this essay is dealing exclusively with the movie version of The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, I know the movie was a book first. Yes, it is a very good book. Yes, an actual movie version of the book would be awesome. You should write a blog post about it.
**In fairness, this was how I met Mrs. Moff, although the show in question was The Ultimate Fighter.