The Next Literary Star

There’s a TV phenomenon that has me under its spell, and it’s a type of reality show.

This isn’t one where people eat bugs–though they could conceivably have to cook them.  They’re competition shows, and they’re on the Food Network.  The Next Iron Chef and The Next Food Network Star.

See, chefs apply to be on the show, and then the top contenders are put through rigorous cooking and/or “star” challenges.  Basically, they’re going through the interview process times ten, and on TV for all of America to watch.  You can vote for your favorite online, though I’m not certain your opinion actually matters–one of my mother’s coworkers was a contestant on The Next Iron Chef a couple of seasons ago (chef Gavin Kaysen) and he knew who won long before the episodes ever aired.  He was cut about halfway through the series for under-seasoning his frog leg lollipops (I’m not kidding).

Of course, this is “reality” TV, which means it isn’t exactly reality.  My favorite contender for this year’s Next Food Network Star, Aarti Sequeira, has mentioned the difficulties of TV’s so-called reality in her food blog.  Things are spliced and manipulated to keep us going along, so we never get the whole story–just the most sensational parts.  But it makes people really invest in the next possible celebrity chef.  The people who watch Food Network, anyway.  And the outcome does have something to do with the chefs’ culinary skill, but it also has to do with how well they’ll sell ad space and bottled chocolate sauce.

So here’s what I’m thinking: some publisher somewhere needs to create a Next Literary Star competition.  Of course, first they might need to make a Literary TV network.  Perhaps featuring literary readings, televised poetry slams, and the drama of the writing workshop, with fancy camera work.  And then we can start sending in audition tapes so that we might become the Next Literary Star.

Maybe one contestant could propose a show that would make poetry accessible to the masses.  Another could take questions from viewers and provide writing advice.  Another could do dramatic readings of the classics or improvise new works right in front of the studio audience. They could figure out how to break down creative writing the way the Food Network has broken down cooking and teach us all how to do it.

Of course, they’d all have to have nice smiles and pretty skin.  Certain flaws would be acceptable.  As a chef is allowed a bit larger waistline than the average celebrity, a writer would probably be allowed ink stains on the hands, pens stuck in the hair and behind the ears, or a lock of frazzled hair around the face where he or she’d been chewing on it during the writing process.

It’s not a perfect plan, I’ll admit.  The art of writing might be devalued a bit.  The flashy showbiz side of it might win out in the end (not everyone, after all, can play to the camera).  But a few writers would have jobs.  And as the network expanded, so would the job market.  People would know writers’ faces.  They’d stop them in supermarkets and movie theaters to get their autographs.  And, of course, the world would have one more reality show.

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