Can Reality Be This Deadly?

Kelsey Grammer in 15 Minutes FOR SUNDAY MORNING

This week, CBS News Sunday Morning's John Leonard muses on "reality" TV and how the concept is handled by two new movies: 15 Minutes and Series 7.

Once upon a time, from Achilles sulking in his tent to Lindbergh over the Atlantic, from Alex the Great on a coin to Elvis on a stamp, you got famous for doing something I couldn't -- for fabulous surprise, terrible waste, superb skill, or incredible luck.

Winning a war was worth a monument.

Sainthood helped. So did money, or being king, or dying young.

What boys have done to impress girls, from Helen of Troy to Jodie Foster, has always been written up at epic length, either by sportswriters like Homer in the old Greek league or by gossip columnist like Plutarch and Liz Smith.

But now, I just want you to look at me. And I'll do anything to get the camera's attention.

Slobs want to be celebrities! And two new movies are hysterical about it.

In 15 Minutes, two eastern European bad guys (played by Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov) want to be in movies the minute they hit New York. They steal a video camera even before they start killing people.

Robert De Niro, a media-savvy homicide cop, and Ed Burns, an arson investigator, try to track them down.

But Kelsey Grammer, the anchor of a tabloid TV news show, is willing to pay a million dollars for the tape of their goriest murder. After many dead bodies and one explosion, there will even be a music-video, promoting 15 Minutes.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
Whereas Series 7 purports to be a TV game show like Survivor, shot cinema-verite, like Cops, except the six "contenders" have to kill each other.

Brooke Smith plays Dawn, the reigning champion, prepared to track down and blow away her former high-school sweetheart, even though she's eight months pregnant. No wonder her suburban Connecticut family doesn't want to let her in the door.

On the other hand, the parents of another contender in Series 7 really get into the spirit of things.

Never mind that Series 7 intends to be satirical, while 15 Minutes actually takes itself seriously.

Never even mind whatever became of Robert De iro.

Imagine Hollywood getting on its high horse about "reality" television programs, while exploiting the very same creepy-crawly peepshow production values.

Besides, isn't this a democracy? If starlets who babble on about their substance abuse and their liposuction, and rock musicians addled on cobra venom, and war criminals whose mothers never loved them, all get to be soft-boiled 15-minute Warhol eggs, why not the rest of us?

For that matter, in a nation as much in love as we are with the death penalty, what's wrong with game-show murder?

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