As The Bachelor's drama unfolds, viewers should ask: What's real about "reality TV"?
That's because, as my good TV critic pal Aaron Barnhart of the Kansas City Star first reported on his blog, NBC's unscripted weight loss competition misled viewers into believing that ejected contestant Dane Patterson ran a full 26.3-mile marathon, when he was actually picked up by a van somewhere along the route, according to one of Barnhart's readers.
NBC and the show's producers eventually apologized, saying that Patterson was picked up by a van at the 17-mile marker and given a ride for 3 miles so he could get to the finish line before race officials packed up and left.
But if it took a bunch of blog postings from other runners and coverage by a major TV critic to get an admission on this bit of tweaking, what else aren't they telling us about how they stage the show?
Back to The Bachelor, where single dad Jason Mesnick ensured high ratings for the broadcast Monday and tonight by first picking Melissa Rycroft during the pretaped competition, then dumping her during the show's "After the Rose" recap episode for the woman he had originally slotted in second place, Molly Malaney.
Throughout the episode, Mesnick's machinations were played for maximum melodrama, with the Bachelor shedding a boatload of tears as he breaks up with one woman on national television and settles into a deep kiss with another in the space of an hour. Host Chris Harrison insists the finale was not a producer's set-up -- that Mesnick proposed to Rycroft around Thanksgiving and they fell out of love over the holidays.
But no one will convince me the choice to play out this awful melodrama on camera -- instead of resolving everything between the three people and then bringing them on camera to talk about it -- was about anything other than juicing ratings with a spectacle the 7-year-old series had never televised before.
I just hope the guy's young son Ty didn't get too attached to Rycroft -- or Malaney.
That's also why I don't think viewers should get too worked up about this back-and-forth.
It's actually common for couples created on The Bachelor to break up after the show's glamor fades -- most participants just have the good sense to do it off camera.
Here's hoping Mesnick keeps the next breakup to himself -- or gets it out of the way on tonight's concluding "After the Rose" episode.