Even on its darkest days, those endless weeks where it seems like the next Top Chef spinoff can’t come quickly enough, the folks at Bravo must thank God every night for E! Ever since Bravo traded actors studios for real housewives, the Ryan Seacrest network has been running a rival campaign to be the premier purveyors of what I’m going to attempt to coin as “White Sofa” shows (on account of the ubiquitous piece of furniture found on every set.) These are essentially workplace dramas (I use the term “drama” loosely,) where the work is always something easily painted as glamorous, and the clientele are usually wealthy. Each episode centers on one to three “cases,” all of which are wrapped up by the end of the episode. Without that serialized hook, the element that is supposed to get people to come back every week is the personality or personalities that inhabit that office. Attitudes are copped, claws come out, signature catchphrases are tossed around, and at the end of the hour, the reset button is usually deployed.
I guess it says something then, that the network that brings you Millionaire Matchmaker and Flipping Out looks downright astute next to what E! has been serving up these last couple years. Its latest offering, Scouted, focuses on the modeling world, a subject very apt for white sofa appropriation but one that’s been more or less been monopolized by Tyra Banks since the early ’00s. There is a fun, silly, very low-investment show hiding somewhere in Scouted, but the low production value and the generally unremarkable central cast keep it from being that show.
The formula is simple: Two scouts at various locales across the country find models that they wish to take to New York City to meet with One Management, a modeling agency with, according to my research, an absurdly designed website and an impressive stable of big name editorial models (though, curiously, the show only cares to mention Channing Tatum and Alexis Bledel.) We get to know the girls a little before the main event, when they’re sent off and put in the hands of One’s team of stylists, makeup artists, and coaches for a camera test. The team deliberates the merits of both candidates, with some measure of bickering. One model is picked up by the agency, the other is sent back home to continue life in shamed anonymity.
This all would be perfectly inoffensive if the show didn’t appear to be directed and edited by a middle-school video production class. I am willing to suspend my disbelief that a modeling agency would actually go to the expense of giving a potential client a day of beauty before signing her; I’m willing to grit my teeth through the segments with Dallas-based scout Paige Parkes, a high-strung bottle blonde who can’t help but sound like an evil witch when she expresses her glee at “a room full of beautiful girls” and tells one hopeful that she’s going to be “wrapped like a present” when they get to New York. What I can’t deal with are the most canned line readings I’ve heard since the last time I was forced to watch an episode of a Kardashian series, and utter failure to follow even the most basic reality production rules. The One team first introduces themselves in a series of talking-head blips, but there are no name card subtitles until the next scene, when they’re all talking at the table together, as if that scene had originally been placed before the introductions. In another sequence, a talking-head interview that has clearly been image-flipped is juxtaposed with an unaltered scene, so that the white streak in the woman’s hair seems to be switching sides in every other shot.
This may all sound like nitpicking, but when you’re dealing with television best watched in bed with a bottle of white wine, the details actually matter quite a bit. Bravo has perfected the art of programming that even the snootiest semiotics grad could potentially find themselves lulled into an accidental marathon of, and half of that art is editing. The other half is finding effective personalities—call me crazy, but I’d much rather spend a rainy Sunday watching Tabatha Coffey yell at complacent hairdressers than any of the people on Scouted. There are basically three distinct populations on Scouted: the desperate, self-serious “scouts” who spend their days stalking 14-year-old girls across shopping-mall food courts; the models, who no amount of homelessness and/or cancer could make interesting; and the crew at One Management, who all appear to have waited their whole lives to be on a reality show and then, when the day came, forgot to bring their personalities. None of these people are compelling, and none of them are the kind of main attraction that inspire mainstream or cult followings. One’s creative director may waste no time in mocking America’s Next Top Model, but they should probably wait until their show gets 15 seasons and an “All Star” show before casting stones.