How do you know an online trend is possible reaching its apex? When network television creates a summertime reality show around it. Enter Fox's "Mobbed," which airs tonight, March 31, 2011. It's hosted by Howie Mandel, and will showcase various elaborate song and dance routines developed by the show to help surprise a loved one with happy news or reveal a big secret.
And in the process, it's sure to kill the genre completely. At least... if history is any indication. And I'm bummed about it. Yes, the network that brought us The Swan---which gave free plastic surgery to "ugly" people only to pit them against each other in a beauty contest---is going to try to take flash mobs mainstream.
You know how you used to love that indie band... but then they got popular and went mainstream and now everyone loves them... so you hate them now? You know how the iPhone was the most coveted device in the world... until your mom got one? That's what I'm worried about here. I'm worried about flash mobs losing their luster because of the wrong kind of mainstream attention.
Flash mobs have long been one of my favorite varieties of viral video with Improv Everywhere behind many of the best examples. They also go viral at a much higher rate than most varieties. So it's understandable why network television executives have taken notice. There is often an emotional payoff with viewers of flash mob videos that you don't see with all genres, and it ranges from a small smile to ebullient joy. I've seen several people cry tears of joy at the end of the TMobile Welcome Back video.
But are we ready to see the format jump from the world of short, online clips to the world or corporate-sponsorship and reality television? I have no idea. Maybe you need to see a promo to decide:
That looks... awful. It looks like Extreme Home Makeover meets the Internet. And I'm instantly worried the show will focus WAY too much on the backstories of these people... highlighting the tear-jerker elements the way Home Makeover does. Now, if you gave me a Tosh.0-style show where we just watch outstanding flash mobs for 30 minutes... I'm there. But this is looking pretty schmaltzy... cheesy... and dumb.
Don't get me wrong... I haven't seen it yet, so I can't pass too much judgment. It's possible the show will get it perfectly right, and bring flash mobs into the homes of many new fans. But I'm skeptical.
Variety has seen it, and they're more than skeptical... they seem a little offended, actually:
"Fox's reality mavens manage to take something as weird and wonderful as flash mobs... and overzealously turn it into a garish, almost vulgar prank show... Normally, it's hard to go wrong with a proposal and impromptu wedding, but "Mobbed" manages to suck the fun out of it through sheer overkill. In the process, the show mangles what makes flash mobs so buoyant..."
Ouch. So... in other words... exactly what i was worried about. Great. Can't wait. It's disappointing, really... by concentrating so much on the setup and planning, they're removing the very mystique that makes flash mobs so much fun. If we know what's coming, then there's no surprise at all.
Why does it seem like every time Big Entertainment tries to capitalize on an Internet Trend ($&@% My Dad Says comes to mind), they screw it up beyond all comprehension? Don't they know that half the reason this stuff works on the Internet is because it's free from input of the many producers, sponsors, and studio chiefs?
For some perspective, here's a look at what is perhaps the most famous (and one of the most well-done) flash mobs ever, Improv Everywhere's Frozen Grand Central: