You know that the reality-cancer has finally metastasized across the entire body of television when Pax, home of wholesome religious programming, joins in the nasty fun and games. Cold Turkey even has an ethically suspect, Joe Schmo/Average Joe–like twist (it’s actually created by Stu Krasnow, the guy responsible for Average Joe). The producers lured the 10 participants by promising a reality show cunningly customized to fit their predilections—one guy thinks he’s going on a safari series, while an older widow thinks she’s signed on for a dating show—only to ambush them with a far less pleasant scenario. The point is actually to make each of these people, all smokers, quit cold turkey.
The end justifies the meanness, supposedly, as shaking the nicotine monkey off their backs is all for their own good. There’s much sanctimonious drivel about the show’s noble motives, often spouted by the tough-love-talking host (A.J. Benza, the former Daily News gossip columnist, who swaggers as if he were a character in a dime-store detective novel). Of course, Cold Turkey is really all about vicarious entertainment generated by penning a bunch of increasingly irritable strangers together in one of those generic, nouveau-luxury houses familiar from countless other reality shows, and watching them go through withdrawal pangs. What’s in it for the turkeys themselves? The thrill of clean lungs and a chance to be forever remembered, as one cranky participant points out, as that smoking girl.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 7, 2004