September 10, 2007

Can Nice Guys Finish First on MTV?

Regular readers of this blog will know that despite my age and sex, I was a devoted fan of MTV's Laguna Beach, and have continued watching the adventures of Lauren on The Hills, now MTV's highest-rated show (new episodes appear at 10:00 P.M., and are repeated more often than Geico commercials). The Hills has become closer in spirit to CelebReality shows on VH1 than MTV's other reality shows -- little pretense is made any more that scenes are not constructed. The players are so jaded and the settings and cinematography so beautiful that there is an abstract, soothing feel to the show. Despite the drama of Lauren's estrangement from her best friend Heidi, and the constant meddling of a great villain, Spencer, one doesn't feel that much is at stake. Lauren seems beyond pain these days.

That's why The Hills's lead-out, The Life of Ryan, is such a fascinating counterpoint. Star Ryan Sheckley is the opposite of jaded. He loves his skateboard career, he loves his family, he loves his friends. About the only negatives in his life is that he can't seen to snag a serious girlfriend and his parents have just divorced and he's worried about the repercussions on his two brothers and his mother, who is also his manager.

I have a theory that it's a lot harder to write and to cast a good hero or heroine than a villain. A great villain is a boon, but only if the villain is plying his trade on at least one character that viewers care about. It's hard to admit that you are identifying with the nice guy or the ingenue, but in my research on soap operas, I found when you scratched a fan, that identification with a "good guy" is crucial to loyalty to a show.

Nice guys can work on TV. Little People, Big World, featuring the lovable Roloff family, is one of TLC's highest-rated shows. I'm predicting a huge success for Life of Ryan. It would be nice for MTV to feature a show or two with non-jaded teens.

You can catch the new episodes of both shows tonight from 10-11 P.M., and reruns of previous episodes during the two hours before.

P.S. For some reason, MTV is is downplaying the debut of the younger sibling of Laguna Beach, Newport Harbor (it airs right after The Real World, at 10:30 on Wednesday night). One would need a ruler marked in centimeters to determine whether the kids on Newport Harbor are any nicer than their predecessors on Laguna Beach, but they are certainly less jaded. Is it too late to use the same format as Laguna Beach once the more glamorous and world-weary Laguna Beach-The Hills kids have been unleashed? Who knows? But Newport Harbor shares the same superb production values, the kids and Newport are beautiful, and as an adult, I can watch the show and feel blissfully content that I'm no longer in high school.