July 11, 2006

The Insomnia Diaries

From time to time, I can't sleep. When I can't sleep, I tend to go turn on the TV and watch until my eyes snap shut out of self-defense, whether I'm actually sleepy or not. Any self-respecting eyes would shut when confronted with the vast wasteland of late-night/early-morning TV.

A prime example of this is PlayMania, the show than GSN uses to fill the critical 1-to-3-AM slot Thursday through Saturday. I've encountered this show a few times in restless moments, and the premise of the show appears to be as follows: people phone in to the show and play mindlessly simplistic games (hangman, unscramble the word, fill in the blanks, and so forth) in order to win nominal cash prizes (in the $50 to $100 range).

It's a profoundly dumb program, but it's the perfect late-night show. For one thing, the vaguely dizzying set colors, music, sound effects, graphics, and manic host chatter (all designed to keep you awake, I think) are fascinating in a bad-acid-trip sort of way. For another thing, the show's creators recognize that the kind of people who watch television between 1 and 3 in the morning are probably (1) drunks and/or stoners, (2) high school and/or college kids, probably male, (3) desperately lonely people, again probably male, (4) insomniacs, and (5) some combination of the above. The show was clearly designed for these people, and it doesn't even try to pretend otherwise. Hence the HR Pufnstuf set. Hence the wacky graphics. Hence the eye-catching hostesses dressed in mildly risque outfits. Hence the sound effects, which seem to have come straight out of the SNL "Pranksters" sketch.

Also, the show is, as they never seem to tire of pointing out, "COMPLETELY live!" This means two things. One, all those stoned/drunk/horny/lonely/sleepless viewers are also the contestants. This means a plethora of mysterious hang-ups, slurred conversations, inept attempts to flirt with the comely hostess, and profoundly idiotic guesses at the answer. Also, the comely hostess has to keep talking for two straight hours, with only a handful of brief breaks in the action. The PlayMania hostesses (there appear to be two regular ones who rotate days) are generally pretty good at this, but late in the show, things can get, well, interesting.

For instance, one of the hostesses, Shandi Finnessey, is a former Miss USA. One night, she was free-associating about her experience working for Donald Trump, who used to run the Miss USA pageant. "I was actually an employee of Donald Trump at one time, when I was Miss USA. He owns that, you know. Miss USA. Whatever. The point is, I was under Donald Trump for a while there. Well, I didn't- no, not- you know what I mean."

Another night, one hostess (whose name I didn't catch and who doesn't appear to be a regular hostess) was desperately trying to fill dead air while waiting for someone to call. "Come on and give it a go. It's just like hangman. You all played hangman when you were little. I know I did. But I was dyslexic. I really was! It was so bad that the only word I could use for hangman was 'people.' That's it. If you played me a few times, it was easy to guess my word, because it was always the same. Sometimes I used 'green.' But that was it. 'Green' and 'people' were my only two choices. But my family was never good with words. My mother didn't talk unti she was 5. Really!" That same hostess, in an attempt to get more people to call in, said, "If you're thinking of going to bed, remember: Sleeping is cheating!" She said it several times. I still have no idea what she meant.

In short, this show is trainwreck TV at its finest.

Anyway, last Friday night I couldn't sleep again, and I found myself in front of the idiot box again, watching this program. The aforementioned Shandi was hosting. (Have you ever met anyone else named "Shandi?" I haven't.) The game at hand was "Shandi's Top 5 Sexiest Actors," which is exactly what it sounds like. One caller guessed Harrison Ford. Shandi was horrified. "Harrison Ford? Ew! He's like 400 years old!"

According to IMDB, Harrison Ford is 63 years old, and Shandi Finnessey is 28. So her horror is perhaps understandable. Harrison's old enough to be her father, for Pete's sake!

However, consider the following. Shandi's #1 choice for Sexiest Actor was John Travolta, who is 52. Shandi's #2 choice for Sexiest Actor was 56-year-old Richard Gere. Either of them is also old enough to be Shandi's father.

Oh, and Shandi explained her choice of Travolta as #1 by saying: "He looks just like my daddy! Don't they say that women are always looking for their fathers?"

If I were a psychologist, I'd love to have a long session with Shandi about this.

(As I recall, her #3 through #5 choices were all in her own age bracket, or roughly so. But still.)

Posted by Mediocre Fred at July 11, 2006 12:15 PM | TrackBack

For the last year, I didn't have real cable, just whatever came through when my roommate (probably illegally) hooked up the TV. We got four channels of "Manhattan Neighborhood Network." It was dull during the day, and kind of scary at night. Like, stuff-that-I-thought-I'd-have-to-watch-the-R.-Kelly-video-to-see scary. When anyone tells you that Giuliani drove all the crazy perverts out of Manhattan, tell her that they're on public access television after midnight.

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