I have this idea. And I trust your opinion. So I'm running it by you.
Seven or eight or eleven laid-off professionals who have run out of financial resources and lost their homes live together in a McMansion that's bank-owned. The individuals are followed as they try to find: jobs, food, healthcare, etc. on only the limited (or no) financial resources they bring with them. The only thing they're given is a place to live. Internet connection, food, utilities (including phone) are not included, they have to sort those things out for themselves, either individually or as a group, that's up to them to decide. So yes, it's possible the show could be filmed in a completely dark house if they can't pay their electric bill. (Which could be kinda funny, the production crew would have to use a generator to power their equipment.*) The only way to be "eliminated" is by securing a full-time job. If/once a house member gets a paycheck from a full-time job they have to either leave the house or a portion of their paycheck is "shared" among the other house members for shared expenses like the aforementioned utilities. If a housemember gets a job and chooses to leave, they'll be replaced by another laid-off professional.
Working titles: Harsh Reality
This is the Real World, Baby
Would you tune in and watch it every week?
I know, I know, reality TV is (thankfully, finally) dying.
But this is more of a documentary mixed with aspects of the more successful "reality" shows like Big Brother, Survivor, The Apprentice, Amazing Race and insert cooking/designing skills challenge show here.
Yes. This is somewhat self-serving because I need a job and place to live, and creating this show and/or being one of the house members would solve a couple of my immediate and pressing issues. And yes, that's what spawned the idea.
But. The more I think about it, the more I think it might actually be a good idea. It's a relatively low budget investment for any network, heck, PBS could do it. For the low, low price of working a leasing deal with a bank on a foreclosed home (of which there are millions all over the country) (or, better still, someone with a foreclosed or negative equity home could donate it and get the charitable tax donation credit) and a production crew, a network has a gripping, very real reality show. It would be the antithesis of the Kardashians, which, I think, would have huge appeal to anyone over the age of 22.
Why would any network want to gamble on this? Well, for starters, a little tax shelter called 501(c) status, for a start. Oh yes, charity. A) They're helping keep down neighborhood blight by leasing (or heck, even buying) a foreclosed home; B) They're helping the economy by taking one foreclosed property off the bank dole; C) And not least, they're giving unemployed homeless people a place to live. So it's not just a homeless shelter, it's a tax shelter! (Hence the possible title Shelter Me.)
And D) There are opportunities for some of the warmest, fuzziest moments on television. Yes, there's an uncomfortable schadenfreude morose aspect (okay, a lot of uncomfortable morose schadenfreude aspects), but there are loads of opportunities for "triumph of the human spirit" moments, too. Imagine the moment an unemployed mother whose children have been separated and are living with far-away relatives lands a job which will pay her enough to provide and care for herself and the kids and she reunites her family. Imagine an unemployed middle manager who's handy with gardening organizing a garden and the unemployed sales rep taking the produce from that garden and selling it at a farmer's market, with help from the unemployed marketing person. Imagine an unemployed copy editor helping an unemployed systems analyst rework his resume so it reads more approachable and showcases a broader skill set. Awwwww, working together. Isn't that adorable?! How resourceful people can be when they get creative and work together! We can all learn from these people!
And better still, imagine the moment a laid-off teacher with a background in special needs education finally lands a new job teaching autistic children. Imagine the moment the former call-center manager who was laid -off due to foreign outsourcing two years before her retirement gets a call with a job offer to manage a customer service department. Imagine that systems analyst discovering a new career path in CAD software design. Heck, maybe they'll network amongst themselves and use each others' resources to find jobs - that laid-off teacher may have a sister in advertising who knows about a job opportunity for the marketing professional. We hear a lot about networking, and that it's who, not what, you know that lands jobs. Maybe this could showcase whether or not that's true or even a factor.
Yes, yes, I know. Those glorious success moments will be few and far between. There will be far more disappointing moments when the housemembers receive the news they didn't get a job they interviewed for three times. The rejection moments will far outnumber the rejoice moments. But. That's reality. (Wanna see my spreadsheet detailing over 2,000 job applications/interviews and subsequent rejection?) There will be some issues and behaviors people who've never been unemployed for more than a few weeks won't understand. It will be uncomfortable to watch. Like depression behaviors such as prolonged sleeping and/or sleeplessness; like crying jags; like weight gain and weight loss; like sudden development of health issues such as migraines, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and dental issues stemming from teeth grinding while sleeping; like the matter-of-fact way suicide is mentioned as a solution; like the profound isolation from society that occurs when you have no job and no money; like the obvious slow evaporation of the soul and transformation into a passionless hollow shell. Yeah. It's not pretty. But what I've come to realize and (unfortunately) understand and accept, is that the cliché is true: Unless you've gone through it you do not have a clue what it's like. You can imagine that it's awful, you can sympathize, but until you go through it the depth and range of issues and emotions are beyond comprehension. I would not wish it on anyone, and I mean anyone. Which is why I think it's important to spend time beyond the 5 minute newsbites and online forums to showcase what it's really like to be laid-off and homeless, let people observe and learn about the many (many) facets that aren't showcased.
And that also includes what happens when you do finally get a job. Finally being hired after prolonged unemployment is, of course, a triumph. But. You have lost your home and all of your financial resources...and you have horrible credit. And when you apply for anything - an apartment lease, utilities, a cell phone, a car loan, to name a few - the first questions are "current address/length at address" and "current employer/length of employment." When you have been homeless and unemployed those questions become huge hurdles. Throw in your social security number for a credit check that shows a bankruptcy, foreclosure and a lack of income for over a year and you've got some serious hurdles to overcome. You have a job, and that's great, but, you have to live somewhere and get to and from that job and with only a couple paychecks under your belt that can impossible. Which is why I included the option for people to stay in the house after they land jobs. Getting back on their feet will take a while. Having a place to live until they have a few months of current employment and a current address to show for themselves can make a huge difference for someone trying to start over after a prolonged lay-off. See? This wouldn't just showcase desperation and poverty, it offers viable solutions to challenges unemployed people face when they finally do land a job.
It can offer insight into some complex emotions. When a housemember gets job offer, the others will react in different ways. Some will view as hope for the rest and will be happy and share in the joy of triumph. Some will see it as proof of God and His love. Some will be resentful. (They hired him? Really?) Some will vent passive aggression. (Gee, that's great. Really. That's just great.) Some will fall further into depression. (Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, always the second choice never the hired.) It could be interesting to see if these reactions mirror their reactions to other issues, and if so, it could offer helpful insight to individuals. It will also show not only how some people are more resilient than others, but offer insight as to why some people are more resilient than others, even with the same problem and same odds stacked against them. You know, like LOST. (You're starting to realize I may be really onto something here, aren't you.)
And, of course, there are many opportunities for the ever-popular clash and standoff moments. A housemember isn't sharing or contributing. Someone gets sick and can't afford to see a doctor and infects everyone in the house with strep throat. A housemember has a car but won't volunteer to drive a transportationless housemember to a job interview. It's discovered a housemember has a drinking problem and is hiding booze and drinking themselves to sleep every night. A housemember gets a weekly care package from an aunt and hides and hoards Ramen Noodles and Twizzlers (ahem).
I know, I know!!! I cannot believe no one's jumped on this treasure trove of television opportunity! Whenever I think about all the aspects of this I think, "Geeze, Trillian, you're either effing brilliant or you're really stupid for not seeing an obvious reason no one is doing this."
It's also an opportunity for truly real reality. Very in-the-moment topical real reality. The house members aren't wannabe actors. They're not vying for cash prizes or a spouse. They're trying to find real jobs so they can get back to living their normal lives that were rudely interrupted and shattered by a company downsizing or outsourcing. They're not given anything other than a roof over their heads, so they have to do something, figure out a way to eat and pay utilities and transportation, it's not "hey, come live here in this luxury home/hotel with all expenses paid and then have sex and fight with the other housemembers!" It's "here's a roof over your head, a little nicer than your local homeless shelter, but no food, booze, utilities, maid service, healthcare, transportation or anything else will be provided, and in return we get to film you while you're in the house and watch as you figure out how to eat and cover living expenses and transportation, etc., and we'd like it if you bear your soul once in a while."
Another possibility is to have three Darwin Houses in different parts of the country. Again, not a big expense and very easy since there's virtually no part of the country that doesn't have foreclosed homes and unemployed people. This would compare and contrast the job market and homelessness issues in different regions. (For instance, in Chicago the heating bill would be a major challenge for the housemembers.) This would also broaden the scope of the housemembers which would provide more demographics, hence more opportunities for home viewers to relate to a particular housemember.
And, dreaming really big for a moment, if this television experiment works then there's a real chance it could be put into action in communities all over the country. Use those foreclosed or negative equity homes to help the unemployed rather than just let them sit there or be auctioned to profiteers hoping to turn them into rental income. And of course give laid-off, homeless people a place to live and a new network of living resources. They can share resources. At the very least they'll be less isolated which is a huge factor in suicide. Unemployment half-way houses, if you will.
I ran it by a couple of my friends to mixed reaction. One thinks it's too depressing, "people don't want to be confronted with that kind of reality. People watch TV to be entertained, to take their minds off problems like that." The other thought it might make for a better two or three part actual documentary about several unemployed people. Catching those harsh reality moments that happen before arriving at the Darwin House, like when their cars were repossessed or when sheriff comes to padlock their house might better showcase the intended issues. (I agree, there's a lot of griping melodrama to be had in the backstories, and maybe there's a way to combine them.)
That focus group is kind small and maybe not comprised of a good representative sampling of viewers, hence my request for your opinion. I'm looking to broaden my focus group before I work up an actual pitch.
*(Which is the one aspect of reality TV that interests me, the production/camera crew and what they endure to capture those reality TV moments. I've always thought a show about a reality show production crew would make for good TV.)
Labels: Darwin House, Harsh Reality, job hunting, reality television, Shelter Me, This is the Real World Baby, Unemployment