It has been reported that Richard Branson -- the irrepressible British entrepreneur who built a multibillion-dollar fortune out of being a Virgin (well, not exactly, that's just the name of his megacorporation) -- will seek out his own idyllic piece of reality-show real estate on the Fox (NYSE: FOX ) network.
It even has the nifty working title of Branson's Big Adventure. The pitch: Like another famous contest show, Branson will put several lucky participants through the paces to see who ends up with the prize.
As one of his future Fox network colleagues would say, "Aye Caramba!"
This isn't necessarily what the world of network TV needs right now -- another show based on the concept that affluent cultural icons will dole out draconian tasks to unwitting players to see who can survive an embarrassing evaluation. To be sure (and fair), the show has yet to be fully developed, so that is nothing more than a guess as to its ultimate hook. But we can take a good stab at what it will be; after all, the show can't be boring. Good reality TV is 10% quality and 90% (contrived) drama, and if the angry-mentor antics of Simon Cowell on Fox's American Idol and Donald Trump on NBC's The Apprentice are any indication, we can expect at least a few uncomfortable moments of competitors trying to avert eye contact with their leader.
Let's face it: Big business likes big success. The owner of NBC, General Electric (NYSE: GE ) , wants to make mountains of money. So does Disney (NYSE: DIS ) , parent of ABC, which has its own rich-guy show, an upcoming Mark Cuban vehicle.
Problem is, what's next? Will Viacom's (NYSE: VIA ) MTV ask bratty diva Christina Aguilera to harass some of her fans for access to a chunk of her fortune before it's whittled away by some Behind-the-Music-like demise? (Potential title: Stripped -- Of Your Dignity.)
Good ideas are valuable; good proven ideas are even more worthy. But one has to be careful that an idea -- like a stock -- doesn't become overvalued. Take ABC's Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? game show. Its "stock" was as hot as Paris Hilton in the Arkansas sun, only to fade away quickly (taking down ABC and Disney shares for a little while).
Although the situation isn't fully analogous here, the main thesis holds: The next broadcaster to try its hand at a judgmental rich-guy program might be wasting shareholder equity. True, these shows are relatively cheap, and no one will argue that risk is an inevitable part of the game. But for that matter, no one can truly quantify the risk here, since the field of creative physics tends to be a subjective science.
Still, Fox has a good thing going with American Idol, itself becoming a risk with every new exposure. I'm not sure it's a wise move to enter the reality genre yet again. It's starting to feel like entering one of Branson's hot-air balloons for an around-the-world, stomach-churning voyage.
Do you love reality TV or hate it? Give your thoughts on the Fool's Reality Television discussion board.
Fool contributorSteven Mallas is glad NBC said "You're hired!" to Donald Trump because he owns shares of General Electric, but hopes they don't overdo it. He also hopes another of his holdings, Disney, encourages its network to embrace scripted programming.