Sunday, January 3, 2010

Frank the Entertainer... In A Basement Affair: Scraping the Bottom

This time last year, 51Minds and VH1 seemed to have a winning formula for taking people anxious to be seen on television, putting them in an enclosed space, plying them with drink, putting them in situations guaranteed to ensure varying degrees of humiliation (often for the ostensible purpose of finding "love"), and filming the entire thing. Some entertaining shows of the "guilty pleasure" variety resulted: Flavor of Love, Rock of Love, I Love New York, Daisy of Love, Charm School, Real Chance of Love and most especially I Love Money.

Then, some one or maybe more than just some one cast Ryan Jenkins on Megan Wants a Millionaire. He apparently did well enough on that show that he was immediately cast in the third installment of I Love Money. He might have actually won that season.

We might never know, because VH1 has said they won't air. The contestants have signed confidentiality agreements and not even they can be made drunk enough (apparently) to blab the results.

Not long after the third episode of Megan Wants a Millionaire aired, Mr. Jenkins's wife Jasmine Fiore disappeared. She was found dead in a dumpster. Mr. Jenkins went on the run and eventually committed suicide. The story is sordid and unpleasant, and I covered it extensively at the time. You can read all of that here if you like.

At the time, VH1 released a statement which read:

Ryan Jenkins was a contestant on Megan Wants A Millionaire, an outside production, produced and owned by 51 Minds, that is licensed to VH1. The show completed production at the end of March. Given the unfortunate circumstances, VH1 has postponed any future airings. This is a tragic situation and our thoughts go out to the victim’s family.

VH1 was sleazily pushing off any responsibility onto 51Minds. For their part, 51Minds sleazily pushed off responsibility to an "outside company":

51Minds was not aware of Ryan Jenkins' record when it cast him on "Megan Wants a Millionaire." Obviously, if the company had been given a full picture of his background, he would never have been allowed on the show.

The company did have in place what it thought was a thorough vetting process that involved complete background checks by an outside company for all contestants on its shows. Clearly, the process did not work properly in this case.

To be honest, these statements bothered me a great deal at the time, but while I thought they bordered on insensitive, I at least understood the motivation behind them. Both VH1 and 51Minds felt they needed to say something. They also wanted to try to give themselves some coverage in the wake of all the anger that was being directed at them for allowing a dangerous psychopath to be cast on one of their shows.

If VH1 and 51Minds had left it at that, they might have been okay. After all, Mr. Jenkins did not apparently commit any heinous acts while participating in the programs themselves. VH1 and 51Minds had no direct responsibility for what he did after appearing on their shows. And given the fact that so many of their shows' contestants are shall we say colorful, it's not surprising that their vetting process might allow one particularly bad person-- a charming liar-- to make it through.

Both VH1 and 51Minds could have been given the benefit of the doubt. Neither bears any responsibility for what Mr. Jenkins did.

But they didn't leave it alone. I should say, 51Minds in particular did not leave it alone. They felt a need to go on a "charm offensive" (which could be the title of one of their shows, actually). They had a representative appear on an episode of "Larry King Live."

Perhaps not a bad idea. Get someone with tact, poise, and sympathy to calmly explain exactly the process by which 51Minds went about casting their shows. Unfortunately, 51Minds did not do this. Presumably they could have had their pick from at least a dozen PR professionals who would put a human face on the production company that was taking so much heat in the press. The person they chose, however, came across venal, sleazy, accusatory, morally retarded, egomaniacal and downright psychopathic herself. Ashley from Rock of Love Bus and Charm School could not have appeared any less sensitive than Stuart Brazell, one of the casting directors (or something, it was never really made clear) for Megan Wants a Millionaire.

She made the entire story about her. Her shock. Her disbelief. Of course it didn't help that Larry's questions were pathetic and superficial, and he obviously had no idea of how VH1 reality shows work. But still, Ms. Brazell was a special kind of awful.

She even went so far as to spread some of the blame to the viewers:

BRAZELL: You know, I was completely shocked that he would have been capable of doing this. Obviously these type of people that everyone enjoys watching -- he was charismatic. He was a lady's man. People were drawn to him. He ran around talking in tons of voices.

I could see that he could be a loose cannon. No, did I think that he was capable of murdering his wife? Absolutely not.

"These types of people that everyone enjoys watching." See, if you didn't watch, Ms. Brazell wouldn't have to cast "loose cannons."

How anyone could think that Ms. Brazell's appearance was anything but a complete nightmarish disaster is beyond me. But 51Minds sent her out yet again as their representative, on a show called "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell."

She repeated the "I-wouldn't-cast-psychopaths-if-people-didn't-watch" line:

STUART, BRAZELL, CASTING DIRECTOR: You know, I will say that the fans of these VH1 shows, when it`s kind of been coming out that VH1 is going to stray away from this programming, go for, you know, more celebrity-based shows, they love these shows. There`s a reason why VH1 has had success with these shows. There`s a fan base, that`s what they crave. They love this kind of outrageous behavior these shows offer.

They crave the outrageous behavior. They want the loose cannons. I just give them what they want!

Keep in mind, this is how 51Minds' chosen representative. They thought she would do a good job representing them and their position. Apparently, that position is that their fans are depraved, so depraved that in order to keep up with their "cravings," it's bound to happen that a killer is going to fall through the cracks and make it onto the air.

Knowing that, is there anyone out there who wants to keep watching their programming? What about being cast? Ms. Brazell has a fairly low opinion of those people, too. Take a look at what she had to say about the cast of "Real Chance of Love 2":

“Girls are looking for the guy they want to f*ck or the guy they want to marry,” Braznell [sic] says bluntly. “Chance is crazy, a total assh*le. He’s feisty. I love him. Real is down-to-earth, looking for true love and the mother of his children.”

Stuart Brazell has a low opinion of you.

Ms. Brazell might not work for 51 Minds anymore. Her linkedin profile suggests her association with 51 Minds is "past." But then under "experience" she suggests that she still freelances for VH1. Who knows? I guess the more important question is, "Does 51Minds still have contempt for their viewers?" Which raises another question, come to think of it: "If so, do their viewers deserve it?" After all, these shows are all basically the same-- the same obnoxious types put in the same situations doing the same "outrageous" things. And people still (often) watch.

And blog about them.

Which brings me finally (sorry it took so long) to VH1's and 51 Minds' latest collaboration: "Frank the Entertainer... In A Basement Affair" (apparently the ellipses are part of the official title of the show-- why must there be a pause after Frank the Entertainer?). As viewers of these shows know, Frank the Entertainer is the rather sad, frantic, loud, buffoonish participant (and loser) from one of the "I Love New York" seasons, and the first two seasons of "I Love Money" (I'm not sure if he appeared on the third season). The joke is that he's a big, beefy guy in his late 20s or early 30s who still lives in his parents' basement. He's been trying to win enough money on VH1 shows to get his own place.

Oh, and to find love. First, he tried it with New York. Then, on the first "I Love Money," he tried it with Destiney from "Rock of Love." On the second "I Love Money," he tried it with Becky Buckwild.

None of those worked out for him.

When the show was announced, I thought it could be cheesy fun and made a mental note to watch out for it. After all, what kind of woman would want to actually compete for the affections of this man? He is, as I've already stated, rather sad, frantic, loud, and buffoonish. Supposedly, he still lives in his parents' basement. Then, the whole "Stuart Brazell Affair" occurred and I decided screw 51 Minds, if that's what they think of me.

TiVo got the first episode for me. I watched it. I need help; I watched it. I wanted to know if VH1 and 51Minds had learned anything.

Frank sitting in the basement, strumming his guitar, contemplating the implications of appearing on a 51Minds VH1 reality show.

It opens with some isn't-this-ironic-because-usually-New-Yorkers-are-so-damned-independent voice over introducing us to Frank and his parents. The charmingly overbearing mother loudly complains about finding Frank's underwear in the kitchen (what?) and asking if he's "got a girl down there". We then see the mother and father sitting on the couch, interviewing about how of their five children, Frank is the only one who would be classified a "loser." One is an attorney, so he might be a scumbag-- we don't really know what kind of attorney he is. Another is "an associate director in corporate America," whatever that means, but we're not told if she worked for a corporation that took bailout money, so she might be a scumbag, too. Another is a special ed teacher. It's kind of difficult to accuse her of possibly being a scumbag. The words "special ed" and "teacher" together is like a magical talisman against criticism. Another is working on "his master's in marketing," which is vague enough that he, too, could be a scumbag.

But the only one of her children that has a TV gig is Frank. Frank's the one that got you on TV, too, mother. Mr. Attorney didn't. Neither did Ms. Associate director in corporate America."

Frank interviews that it's great he gets free food and his parents do his laundry. He's got a point. And the layout of his basement is pretty sweet. Bar, dartboard, TV set, recliner. And his own TV show.

Apparently, Frank sits in this basement all day and waits for his mother to yell at him. And for VH1 to call him to do shows for them. In this case, VH1 wants him to do his show not from a mansion, but from his parents' basement.

So what kind of woman, having seen Frank on his three previous VH1 series, and knowing that they have to do the show from Frank's parents' basement, would want to participate? All of the women seem attractive enough that I firmly believe-- and you can call me cynical I don't care-- none of them are actually interested in Frank.

They want to be on television.

This despite Kerry S's assertion that she had a crush on Frank when she saw him on "I Love New York." "I just want a chance to meet him because I know if I do... I can get him, you know what I mean?"

Kerry, I suspect anyone can "get him," for a night at least.

Annie, the girl next door with the almost-too-cute-voice lies and says she thinks Frank is "sexy... I love, like, his shaved head, and his body is like... amazing." Then she tells the truth and says, "And I'm also really hot," then lies again by adding the word, "too."

When Frank appears from behind the basement door, the women react in much the same way the audience of "The Ed Sullivan Show" reacted when the Beatles played. Again, call me cynical, but I don't buy it.

Frank is so stupid he says, "You're all so beautiful, this is already tough." He should have said, "This is already hard," because that is a double entendre. How can these women even pretend to like him?

Kari M, who is even more girl-next-door than Annie, lies and says "Frank seems like an awesome guy," then insults herself by saying, "and I just think we'd be a great match for one another."

Oh, Kari, you could do so much better, what are you doing???

The women ascend to the second floor to find beds. If this truly is the house where Frank's parents live, then they must be very well-off. The house is enormous. If my parents had such a house, I might not have left, either.

Oh, and if they hadn't gotten a bitter divorce and spent years hating each other. Maybe that is the root cause of the cynicism I'm feeling about this show? Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with The Stuart Brazell Incident at all.

Melissa automatically endears herself to me by saying that she doesn't want to sleep in the room with all the Jesus Christ iconography. It makes her feel like a sinner, she says. Another room, even more distressingly, is adorned with photos of Frank as a chubby little kid.

Melissa is worried about being a sinner. Or, she's worried about the pictures of Jesus Christ making her feel like a sinner. She should check out John 8:7: "Let he who has not appeared on a reality show cast the first stone." I think that's what it says.

First "challenge" is similar to "Rock of Love's" opening photo shoots, except there won't be any nudity. The contestants will take photos with Frank and his parents to see what they will look like as part of the family. "One of those pictures," Frank's father lies, "will be part of our family album forever." His delivery is so deadpan he should be a standup comedian. He seems so natural playing the father of a VH1 reality show contestant.

Melody, at 35, might be too old for Frank. He wants kids. "Women can't have kids forever," Frank points out. Mandy had to move into her parents' attic last year. Frank is a little jealous of that; he's still living underground. Frank's mother doesn't like her because she jokes that she will be joining Frank's family "if they're lucky." The batty old bird interviews that SHE is the one who will be lucky to join OUR family.

Felicia claims to be getting an MBA, so "I have a brain to this beauty." This of course is a direct contradiction of the fact that she is a CONTESTANT ON A SHOW IN WHICH THE "PRIZE" IS FRANK THE ENTERTAINER. Felicia, you are either stupid, or you are a cynical opportunist.

Melissa tells Frank he looks "so buff right now."

Jennifer works for a "government contracting firm" that her "daddy" owns. So she probably cannot be trusted.

Annie says she's on the show because she "saw Frank on 'I Love New York'... and he just seemed like a really honest and loyal person." So she's either a liar or a space case.

Frank calls her "sweet," which probably means she won't last long.

Kerry S is there because she hates being single. She's been single for two years. She loves spooning. She's just looking for a warm body-- at least she's honest.

Tammy points out that "I'm Asian... and, I'm pretty sure you don't have any problems with Asian Chinese food do you?"

This is confusing. Frank wonders if Asian Chinese food is different from Chinese food. I admit I wondered the same thing.

Renee tells them she's been engaged twice, and is a "relationship-oriented girl." One man, after eight years, left home on her birthday and never returned. The other one cheated on her, with... wait for it...

...lesbians. (giggle)

Dana would motivate Frank with a little kick in the ass.

Stephanie is a lingerie and swimsuit model-- everything but nude, which is surprisingly narrow-minded for a VH1 reality contestant. She's wearing a t-shirt on which is written the word "Entertainer," and Frank absurdly worries that she might be there for "The Entertainer," as opposed to "Frank." "Because, we're too of the same people." I don't understand what he means by that-- maybe, "We're two different people"?

Oh, who the hell cares?

Kari from Chicago seems flustered. She doesn't want to answer their obtrusive questions about her professional and personal life. I'm with her-- until they all get to know each other better, it's none of their damn business.

Christi from Chicago thinks she has "family values."

Jessica thinks Frank is outgoing and crazy in a good way. Frank wonders if she might be on something.

Cathy says she's very attracted to Frank. And then she talks and talks. And she likes to shave her legs. This is offered as an apparent non-sequitur.

She looks very familiar to me. Has she been on another reality show?

Yes, Cathy Nardone has been on another reality show-- she was a contestant on "I Survived a Japanese Game Show", first season. Is she really there for Frank, or is this just another reality show to her?

After the pictures, Frank and the parents mingle with the women. Mandy says something about having two dads who think she might be a lesbian, because she's been single so long. Frank's mother says she doesn't care about Mandy's sexual orientation, which makes no sense. What kind of mother doesn't care about her son's potential suitors' sexual orientation?

Frank takes Jennifer and Christi down to the basement. In a moment of candor-- or is that cynical lying?-- Frank tells them he's looking for a woman who's understanding and caring. Someone who can get along with his family. "Especially my mother, 'cause she's the toughest for me."

I really hope Frank's mother isn't the obnoxious jackass she's playing on the show. I hope that for both her sake and his. And Frank's father's. She would be intolerable.

Jennifer says she's never had a boyfriend before, which Frank (and I) finds difficult to believe. She then asks him, "I know you were on New York's show, but, are you attracted to black women?"

Frank answers incoherently, "Honestly, I have never been with a black woman except Tiffani, so... to have a gorgeous, beautiful black woman sitting in front of me... you're gorgeous, absolutely, really beautiful..."

This in front of Christi, who is feeling like chopped liver. She is not a gorgeous, beautiful black woman. She is white. Also, Frank forgot her name.

Jenny IS a gorgeous, beautiful black woman. So why is she trying to get Frank the Entertainer?

Annie tells Frank she does "video art." And, she's caring and loyal. And "a little kooky." She interviews "If he wanted to he could suck on my toes. I mean, I don't want to force anyone into anything, but if he wanted to... that would be cool."

She must not be eliminated.

Annie wouldn't want to force anyone into anything, but she would like to have her toes sucked.

Stephanie didn't know how Frank was eliminated on "I Love New York." So Frank wonders if she's really there for him. Apparently he's got a delicate ego.

"You ever date a white guy?" he asks her.

"No," she says.

"You ever kiss a white guy?"

She mumbles something about not remembering.

Well, she's never kissed me, because she would definitely remember that.

When are these shows going to drop the whole "is-she-really-here-for-me" bulls hit? Frank: NONE OF THEM ARE THERE FOR YOU. THEY ARE THERE FOR THE SAME REASON YOU WERE ON I LOVE NEW YORK. THEY WANT TO BE ON TELEVISION.

Accept it, and enjoy the fact that you are a loser surrounded by attractive women who are willing to feign interest in you, get yourself some sweet kisses and maybe some nookie, and move on.

Frank's parents help him with his decision in a scene that looks so real that it had to be completely scripted. His mother likes Annie, and hates Mandy. Then, during the elimination ceremony they sit on a couch and glare at him while he breaks two womens' hearts by removing them from his television show.

13 recieve "keys to his basement." Jenny gets the first. "She is gorgeous, she's got a body to match it, and she smells great," he inarticulates. The rest of the ceremony is uneventful until the last three women remain, vying for the final key. Frank's mother browbeats him-- it's clear she wants him to choose Kari, and she dislikes Mandy. She doesn't seem to have much of an opinion one way or the other about Stephanie. Anyway, Frank chooses Mandy, and Frank's mother says, "Sorry Kari. I think he made a mistake."

Frank stood up to his obnoxious mother, and kept the obnoxious Mandy. Frank isn't looking for a romantic partner-- he's looking for a mother figure.

Kari and Stephanie should of course count their blessings. Mandy was kept for the conflict. Won't it be so much fun to see Mandy and Frank's mother butt heads?

Given the current state of the economy, with unemployment at or above 10%, with a recession creating uncertainty, a reality dating in show in which the center lives with his parents and is (apparently) unemployed has a great deal of potential. Unfortunately, VH1 and 51Minds have rather deftly avoided that potential, and have given us yet another competitive dating show with typical characters, in a slightly unconventional setting. It might be a little lower-key than previous versions, but it still shows that 51Minds has a fairly low opinion of viewers.

Mandy pic source.
Frank strumming pic source.
Jennifer and Annie pic source.
Cathy Nardone I Survived a Japanese Game Show pic source.
Melissa pic source.


shampoo said...

i've given up vh1. poor jasmine (r.i.p.)

but, I cannot even imagine the arguing that will go on with frank and family... I hope the quieter-natured girls have earplugs.

I never liked the really excessive arguing and meanness... like with lacy got right up on dallas and poured a drink on her... dallas restrained herself through the whole thing and got sent home just because they wanted to keep evil lacy. dallas wasn't even a favorite of mine, but that was so unfair.

but, I always thought things were checked out so that no one actually dangerous was on the shows. but they didn't.
every scene that almost went too far was just too real and, now we know, a lot of the complaints you'd hear were real as well.

it's a miracle it took so long to run across someone like ryan. maybe not every casting director was as bad at their jobs as stuart.

remember when megan gave the guys gifts and the plummer broke the rich kid's piggybank? can you imagine if he'd broken whatever megan gave ryan? (shudder)

that being said, I think frank is safe enough. just loud, sweaty, and annoying. but I don't think he'd harm anyone.

A.Jaye said...

Congratulations Sprague on another well written piece of reality. That bastard Ryan - guilty or not - screwed up Celebreality and the original Thrill Fiction theme. But you, robot remain like The Watcher.

How many 'of love' shows have there been in how many years? How many lasting relationships? That's a worse percentage that the Arab-Isreali conflict.

I Love Money is the only legit show they've got. They screen it I'll post it. Until then I read Ricky Robot on Reality.

'cos its funnier than the tosh on the box.

Ricky Sprague said...

shampoo, that is what Ms. Brazell seems not to understand. Viewers never thought they might actually cast someone capable of real violence. Someone might lose their head and slap someone else... or perhaps spit on another person. But those people would be removed from the show.

They have broken their contract with the viewer, and acted in bad faith.

Yeah, looking back, Garth was lucky he picked the piggy bank to destroy. That's another problem for the producers. Looking back, there are a lot of incidents that look far worse, and potentially dangerous.

Ajaye, I think the only lasting relationships from the "of loves" have been between the individual characters and their love of attention. I say this in as nonjudgmental a way as possible. I have a blog.

And thanks for the kind words, they mean a lot.

shampoo said...

ricky sprague, what a good way of putting it...

I did feel really betrayed because these people, wacky though they may be, entertained me. so, I really didn't want to find out that vh1/51 minds/whoever had no regard for their safety. to me that includes not only leaving out criminals... it would include leaving out people who were too emotionaly unstable (even if they never attack anyone, they could hurt themselves).

hello, stuart, they were earning the $$$ that paid your salary. you owe them some consideration.

your articles are always really good, so if you follow frank... i'll read along... I have to admit I really wonder who on earth would want to pretend so much interest in frank. haha

ajaye, new york and tailormade were together for a while iirc.

with bret being mostly gay with a wife and flav tending to be married... well... ny & tm made be vh1's greatest love match. unless you count megan and brandi c. which I do. haha