It was over a year ago that Paramount first declared its intent to “get back, with very little investment, into the television production business.” But it’s not enough just to announce to the world that you want to make TV and you don’t want to spend a lot of money doing so. Eventually, you actually have to make that TV.
And to their credit, Paramount has finally announced just what shows constitute their minor TV footprint. The winners are:
- An adaptation of Caleb Carr’s novel, “The Alienist,” (which is about late-19th century police psychology, and not someone who’s racist against aliens, as the name might suggest).
- A “limited series” (like a mini-series, but more prestigious-sounding) based on a biography of Charles Lindberg.
- An Amerification of Peter Moffat’s BBC Series The Village
- Narc: The Show
- Ghost: The Show
- Terminator: The Show
- The Truman Show: The Show
Par for the course as far as original ideas are concerned, but one stands out in particular (Hint: it’s the one mentioned in the title of this article). Unlike all the other book and movie and TV adaptations on Paramount’s TV slate, this Truman Show show has the potential to be something different, something more than just a previously written work squashed and stretched into 13-ish episodes, something astoundingly, soul-erodingly meta.
As you may recall, The Truman Show follows one Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), who lives a simple, happy, all-American life. And who lives it under the surveillance of billions of people, all of whom tune in regularly to the 24-hour “The Truman Show.” The character begins to question his artificial reality, and one thing leads to another, culminating with him going boating and having an emotional talk with Ed Harris. But taking The Truman Show, a film about the stifling nature of reality TV and the failings of TV in general (product placement, commercialization) and putting it on TV has the potential to open a massive can of worms here.
Making TV shows about TV shows is nothing new. The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 30 Rock, The Larry Sanders Show, Home Improvement, etc. And if The “The Truman Show” Show is just another in that long line of fake TV on real TV, well, then, so be it. But where The Truman Show differs from these myriad fictional series is its audience. Watching “The Truman Show” was an essential part of The Truman Show. It had crossover appeal for days and ratings in the billions. We see so many people watching “The Truman Show” during the course of the movie because “The Truman Show” is this universal human experience. Everyone watches it. Even we do, technically.
Other TV-about-TV shows can’t say the same thing. Tim Allen causing untold amounts of property damage on “Tool Time” wasn’t really about the people watching “Tool Time.” They sat in the audience and cheered every time Tim or Al narrowly avoided being maimed by a beer-dispensing lawnmower with six diesel engines, and that’s about it. “Tool Time” was there so we could connect with the people on “Tool Time,” not the people watching it. And also to laugh every time Tim Allen was almost maimed by something.
How The Truman Show could differ is by knocking down the wall between “we’re watching a TV show” and “we’re watching a TV show about a TV show.” Take apart the traditional narrative of the movie — man lives life, man finds out life is a lie, goes on physical and existential journey while making silly Jim Carrey faces. Make it less about the basic story and more about us, the viewer. Make us the people watching the real “Truman Show,” like the folks in that bar or the one guy with a TV next to the tub. Sure, it’s a little outside the box from a studio that just announced seven shows that are all remakes of something else, but it’s a rare opportunity to see something that’s actually new and different on TV.
Reality TV isn’t quite what it was in 1998. Where once was The Real World and a makeover show or two, now there’s an all-consuming industry that corrupts the very souls of all who enter it and occasionally has Adam Levine smack-talking Usher. The Truman Show has so much more to work with than it did the first time around. Let’s see if it can make something with it.