OPINION

Rick Sanchez: 'The Briefcase' - Can TV get more exploitive than this?

VILLACANAS, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 29: Unemployed twenty-year old Maria Regina Fernandez (L) spends the night watching television with her boyfriend, who does also not hold a job, instead of going out to the cinema or the villages bars and cafeterias, at their grandmothers home on November 29, 2012 in Villacanas, Spain. During the boom years, where in its peak Spain built some 800,000 houses a year accompanied by the manufacturing of millions of wooden doors, the people of Villacanas were part of Spain's middle class enjoying high wages and permanent jobs. During the construction boom years the majority of the doors used within these new developments were made in this small industrial town. Approximately seven million doors a year were once assembled here and the factory employed a workforce of almost 5700 people, but the town is now left almost desolate with the Villacanas industrial park now empty and redundant. With Spain in the grip of recession and the housing bubble burst, Villacanas is typical of many former buoyant industrial Spanish towns now struggling with huge unemployment problems.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

VILLACANAS, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 29: Unemployed twenty-year old Maria Regina Fernandez (L) spends the night watching television with her boyfriend, who does also not hold a job, instead of going out to the cinema or the villages bars and cafeterias, at their grandmothers home on November 29, 2012 in Villacanas, Spain. During the boom years, where in its peak Spain built some 800,000 houses a year accompanied by the manufacturing of millions of wooden doors, the people of Villacanas were part of Spain's middle class enjoying high wages and permanent jobs. During the construction boom years the majority of the doors used within these new developments were made in this small industrial town. Approximately seven million doors a year were once assembled here and the factory employed a workforce of almost 5700 people, but the town is now left almost desolate with the Villacanas industrial park now empty and redundant. With Spain in the grip of recession and the housing bubble burst, Villacanas is typical of many former buoyant industrial Spanish towns now struggling with huge unemployment problems. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)  (2012 Getty Images)

I met with my staff earlier this week for an editorial meeting and, as usual, a discussion broke out about what people were watching on television. Reality TV is always a great conversation, because no matter how ridiculous a new show is, there’s always another around the corner that is probably even more crass.

So it is with The Briefcase, CBS’ new “reality” show, which takes this exploitive genre to a place I never thought it was capable of going. 

The genre began with cameras in interesting places recording people being themselves (or as much themselves as they can be with a camera pointed at them.) But now, more than two-and-half decades later, Reality TV has been transformed into a dishonestly brutal way of stripping characters, families and sometimes even entire communities of their dignity for all the world to see.  

The idea that the powerful among us would create television meant to exploit the poor by pitting them against each other for our amusement will only work if we cooperate. For the sake of whatever dignity we may have left as a community, I say we don’t.   

- Rick Sanchez

They have introduced us to housewives, mothers, fathers, restaurateurs, chefs, outdoor men and on and on — all willing to do anything for fame and supposed fortune. They’ll lie, cheat, betray, exploit or be cheated, betrayed and exploited by producers — it just doesn’t matter, because after all, it’s all about "look at me, I’m on TV."   

But just as we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. The newest entry in the world of exploitive TV is so intrusive it may end up putting the rest to shame. The Briefcase premiered last week with a bang by scoring enviable ratings. However, its premise is less than admirable.  

The idea is simple enough. Put $100,000 dollars in a briefcase and give it to a really poor family and make them decide whether they want to keep it or give it to another, perhaps even poorer family. They have to decide between taking care of number one or altruistically sharing their loot with number two.  

As sad as the premise is, it becomes even worse when producers use manipulation – the handicraft of all good reality TV producers – by not telling them that the other family has also been given the same amount of money. They are encouraged to spy on each other by being given access into the lives of the other family, looking not only for clues about what others do or don’t have materialistically, but also spiritually and ideologically.  

Poor people judging poorer people for money. Is this what we’ve come to? 

The idea that the rest of us would watch, like Romans in a coliseum, the most desperate among us fight among ourselves for a pot of gold seems modernly cruel. These players are carefully chosen and are physically disabled, medically disadvantaged, scarred from wars, all cast to appear more in need than any one of us and competing torturously against their own mores and values. We watch as they sweat, cry, scream and even heave. We’re told it’s all for entertainment, but is it?

And what’s the lesson? That real people should be willing to go without and sacrifice when making decisions about how they value others? Tell that to the politicians who care more about power, money and electability than their constituents. Tell that to the Wall Street bankers who cheated Americans out of mortgages. Tell that to the entertainment moguls who produce music and shows without due consideration of its effects on our children.

The idea that the powerful among us would create television meant to exploit the poor by pitting them against each other for our amusement will only work if we cooperate. For the sake of whatever dignity we may have left as a community, I say we don’t.