Back when reality television was new, it seemed fresher and more exciting than scripted television. Much of this had to do with the idea that “anybody” could become a star just by breaking into a sweat in the presence of Regis Philbin. Well-paid writers busy churning out scripts for the 14th Tony Danza sitcom just didn’t seem to come up with anything as novel as the banter between Rudy and Richard Hatch. It was all so “real,” and in comparison, old television seemed fake.
But that was then. Now, reality television has become as hermetically sealed as the old regime. In order to get on a reality show, you have to have already been on a reality show. “The Bachelor” recycles old “talent.” Score a gig on “Dancing with the Stars,” and you can last forever. But to appear on “Dancing,” you already have to be a star. There’s no room for “anybody” anymore.
This trend reaches a boring new low on “The Wingman” (8 p.m., FLN), a series in which a comedian, Glamour columnist and all-around charmless exhibitionist named Michael Somerville, offers dating advice to “ordinary” women who just can’t find the right love connection.
In typically perverse reality-TV style, Somerville’s first “ordinary” woman is an on-air correspondent for a Manhattan cable station. In other words, she’s on television every day. She gets to interview stars like Denzel Washington and Usher, but she just can’t find a date for Friday night. Boo hoo. I can imagine there are millions of working (and now out-of-work) women who can so relate.
• Speaking of overexposed personalities from tiresome pop-culture trends long past their expiration dates, a rap star appears on camera and tries to mentor at-risk teens while he awaits sentencing on weapons charges on “T.I. Road to Redemption” (8 p.m., MTV). I sentence him to low ratings.
• The action show “DEA” (9 p.m., Spike) enters a second season following agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency investigating dealers and making busts.
• A much uglier and messier aspect of the so-called War on Drugs can be seen on “Tulia, Texas” on “Independent Lens” (9 p.m., PBS, check local listings).
As compelling as any feature film, this documentary looks at an undercover agent who put 46 citizens of a small town in jail for drug dealing. All but seven were black citizens from the “other” side of the tracks.
After many received sentences of up to 99 years, reporters, ministers, legal groups and civil-rights groups investigated and established valid alibis for many of the incarcerated and discovered the undercover agent’s criminal past and suspect motivations.
Tonight’s other highlights
• The mailbox remains empty in the 1975 special “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” (7 p.m., ABC).
• A “Nova” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) from 2007 recalls a 2004 Pennsylvania trial that would repudiate the “science” behind intelligent design.
• I predict that Simon and Paula will bicker on “American Idol” (7 p.m., Fox).
• A bluebeard’s on the loose on “The Mentalist” (8 p.m., CBS).
• A mystery toxin leaves victims breathless on “Fringe” (8 p.m., Fox).
• A college impostor vanishes on “Without a Trace” (9 p.m., CBS).
• A diet-supplement-related death calls for “Leverage” (9 p.m., TNT).