Catfighting 'Uber-Divas' Get a Reality Show

What does it say about a young woman when her friends and family nominate her to be a part of a reality show because she needs a massive attitude adjustment? 

Queen Bees, the newest reality show entry in the cable-sphere, rounds up a bunch of “mean girls” – older versions of the ones that make middle school a living nightmare for many – with the premise that they must compete to be “nice.”  The one deemed to be the nicest wins $25,000 at the end of the show.

Perhaps there is a silver lining to this show -- the idea of addressing flawed character -- but the dark cloud is the showcasing of bad behavior.  Besides, given the nature of the girls featured, one wonders whether the winner will sincerely be changed.  After all these girls are master manipulators.  In the Washington Post review, writer Monica Hesse said, “And we are talking serious nasties, dude, girls who fake pregnancies and miscarriages to win attention …” 

If they'd fake a pregnancy and miscarriage to win attention might they also fake “being nice” to win $25,000?

Hesse's review contains and interesting comment about what TV reviewers think makes “good television.”

Nice, of course, does not make good television. Now, mean can make pretty awesome television, as we've learned from previous reality shows in which contestants soiled the furniture (Bad Girls Club), stole each other's food (Top Model) and generally acted insane (Mo'Nique's Charm School, every episode). Reality shows based on concrete talent can also make pretty awesome television (Project Runway, Top Chef).

But nice? Nice is harder to make work, in part because it's harder to define and, theoretically, should exist without reward.

The theory that “nice doesn't make good television” is debunked by the continued success of a show like ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition, which is all about “nice” and works beautifully. Sadly there aren't many shows like it on the dial, which validates Hesse's point about the appeal of “mean.” Most reality shows do rely on contestants to exhibit nastiness, lying and manipulation to win.

Hesse reported that Queen Bees “totters between 'so bad it's good' and 'so bad it's bad and makes you question yourself and humanity.'”  Alessandra Stanley, writing for the New York Times, said, “There's a lot of material to work with, because mean girls say the darnedest things.”  But Stanley adds the show has a “cut-rate feel to it” and that there “are no real surprises left to this kind of stylized reality show.”  That probably won't matter to the demographic the producer of Queen Bees is targeting.  Stanley does report that some moments in the show are “priceless.”

When asked by a judge at the beauty contest to name the person she would most like to meet, Camille replies, “I would meet Einstein because he never washed his hair, and nobody ever listened to him when he talked about a lot of important things that the military could have used in the United States.”

Queen Bees debuts on July 11 at 9 p.m. and will air on the N Network, which is Nickelodeon's nightly platform for teenagers, especially teen girls.  The N has raised the ire of socially conservative parents concerned with the type of programming it deems appropriate for teens.  For instance, one of the network's flagship shows, Degrassi, has incorporated drug use, homosexuality, rape and abortion into its storylines.  The N also re-runs programs of a more mature nature that previously aired on broadcast television like That 70s Show and Dawson's Creek.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.