In the 1976 film, “Network,” ruthlessly ambitious programming chief Diana Christensen scores a ratings hit with a reality TV series that follows the adventures of a band of violent domestic terrorists. To boost ratings even further, she hires the terrorists to assassinate her network’s “I’m mad as hell” anchorman Howard Beale on air.
While Diana Christensen was a fictional character, you have to wonder if the programmers at “The Masked Singer” were channeling some of her drive to shock and horrify when they booked Rudy Giuliani to be a contestant on Season 7 of the celebrity-driven singing competition.
As Deadline and other outlets reported, Giuliani was revealed to be a costumed contestant on the Fox primetime series. The unmasking of Giuliani prompted judges Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke to temporarily leave the stage in protest.
EXCLUSIVE: Rudy Giuliani was last week unmasked as an exiting costumed contestant in the taping of the first episode of #TheMaskedSinger. We hears that as soon as they saw Giuliani, judges Ken Jeong & Robin Thicke quickly left the stage in protest https://t.co/6b1rGi3k2Z
— Deadline Hollywood (@DEADLINE) February 3, 2022
From the way social media lit up after the news, it appears that many thought that “The Masked Singer,” or reality TV itself, had sunk to a new low.
Certainly, the genre and the participants it attracts can be magnets for scandal and drama, as the “Network” character predicted decades earlier. To succeed in reality TV, celebrity and regular-people contestants all need to display different and sometimes pathological levels of attention-seeking behavior.
That’s one way a show can create jaw-dropping moments, such as on “The Masked Singer” when celebrity contestants shed their headpieces after they are eliminated. Another such moment on “The Masked Singer” came in 2020 when another controversial Republican politician, Sarah Palin, was unveiled on the show. Fierce criticism followed. The reaction to Giuliani was “perhaps the most polarizing,” Deadline said.
That may be putting it mildly, given that the once-esteemed mayor of New York City disgraced himself as former President Trump’s personal attorney. Giuliani has been accused of engaging in corruption, profiteering, and violating lobbying laws. He also represented Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. By making false and now debunked allegations about election fraud, Giuliani had his license to practice law suspended in his home state of New York as well as Washington D.C.
The idea that Giuliani was brought onto the show to provide a moment of entertainment left a bad taste in many people’s mouths.
Daniel Fienberg, the chief television critic for The Hollywood Reporter, tweeted: “Shows like ‘Masked Singer’ and “Dancing With the Stars” too often operate as a disgrace-laundering operation, helping give the impression that people like Sean Spicer and Rudy Giuliani are figures of innocuously adorable mediocrity worthy of having their status buffed from notoriety to fame.”
Fienberg is referring to Spicer’s controversial run on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2019. To many, it appeared that Trump’s one-time White House press secretary joined Season 28 as an attempt to help clean up his reputation in the minds of many Americans. As Vox said, “The show’s willingness to make him a ‘star’ was seen as giving him a pass he didn’t deserve.”
Probably the same booker who thought that having Sean Spicer on “Dancing With The Stars” was brilliant. pic.twitter.com/SbkZsvC5A5
— Kevin C. McGee (@bankrlawimp) February 3, 2022
“The Masked Singer” is now accused of doing the same thing by reaching the “Rudy Giuliani level of the barrel,” as Feinberg said.
Does the Giuliani appearance truly represent a new low? Given that the genre is rife with scandalous figures and on- and off-screen situations, the Giuliani moment may have some stiff competition for being the lowest of the low. Consider some of these other top controversies in the genre, as listed by Insider and Ranker.
— Josh Duggar, star of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” was revealed in 2015 to have molested five underaged girls when he was 14 and 15. The police report indicates that four of the five victims were Duggar’s siblings. In December, he was convicted in a new case of receiving and possessing child pornography and is awaiting sentencing.
Josh Duggar requests new trial or acquittal in child pornography casehttps://t.co/4A3c0vCO8D
— Fox News (@FoxNews) January 21, 2022
— June “Mama June” Shannon from “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” dated a man convicted of child molestation while the show was on air from 2012 to 2014. Shannon’s romance led to the show being canceled. She and her daughter, former child beauty contestant Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, returned to the reality TV this past fall, getting their chance to shine on Season 6 of “The Masked Singer.”
— Teresa Giudice from “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” and her husband, Joe, were convicted of multiple counts of conspiracy and bankruptcy fraud charges. In 2014, Teresa was sentenced to 15 months in a federal prison and served 11 months, while Joe was sentenced to 41 months and deported to Italy.
— Jon and Kate Gosselin, one of the original reality TV power couples, split amid cheating rumors that were documented on their show “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” which ran from 2007 to 2009, and documented their efforts to raise their sextuplets and twins. Both denied the cheating rumors at the time.
— During last spring’s “The Bachelor” season, which featured its first Black bachelor, Matt James, host Chris Harrison defended the actions of contestant, Rachael Kirkconnell, after it was revealed that she had attended an “Old South” party in college in 2018. While Kirkconnell received James’ final rose, Harrison faced immediate backlash and stepped away from hosting duties.
Rachel Lindsay Responds to Chris Harrison’s Bachelor Franchise Exit https://t.co/HtxhkdhEDA
— E! News (@enews) June 9, 2021
— The fourth season of “Bachelor in Paradise” was nearly derailed by an allegation of sexual misconduct between Corinne Olympios and Demario Jackson. According to reports, Olympios and Jackson had some kind of sexual encounter while her judgment was impaired after drinking alcohol. The incident was caught on camera, which led to questions about whether the show would exploit the incident for ratings.
— “The Bachelor” star Chris Soules was involved in a fatal car accident in his home state of Iowa in April 2017. He was charged with leaving the scene of the accident and accepted a plea deal that ended with a sentence of a two-year suspended prison sentence.
— “The Amazing Race 6” contestant Jonathan Baker was accused of berating his wife after they came in second place during a foot race in Berlin in 2004. The foul-tempered Baker was seen shoving his wife and yelling at her in anger for slowing them down. The couple are now divorced.
— “Big Brother” evicted Aaryn Gries in 2013 after she made racist and homophobic comments during her time in the house. Gries tried to defend herself by saying she was only joking.
— “American Idol” in 2021 was accused of giving Trump’s former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway an opportunity to burnish her reputation, while also exploiting her teen daughter, Claudia Conway, by heavily promoting Claudia’s short stint on the singing competition. At the time, Claudia and her mother also were mired in family drama over the Claudia’s social media allegations that her mother physically and emotionally abused her.
EXCLUSIVE: ‘American Idol’ mulls taking focus off Claudia Conway after backlash https://t.co/cKYp0SRMm2 pic.twitter.com/w1mynBhkLz
— New York Post (@nypost) February 18, 2021