Welcome to reality TV’s new frontier: Religion.
With the premiere on Sunday night (Nov. 13) of the eight-part “All-American Muslim” on TLC (10/9c), we have an inkling that more unscripted peeks inside some of America’s lesser-known religious groups are in the works.
Why do we think this? Because we’ve been around the television business for a while and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that TV shows don’t get created in some kind of a vacuum. Though there are exceptions to every rule, you can almost always place a winning bet that, when there’s one show about some subject on TV, there is inevitably another one right behind it on the same subject or a related one.
And if “All-American Muslim” generates interest over the next eight weeks, we’re willing to wager that you’ll see more such shows in the months ahead – not necessarily about American Muslims, but about other groups not generally seen on TV.
“All-American Muslim” captures the “everyday lives” of five Muslim-American families living in Dearborn, Mich., a small city that happens to be about one-third Muslim, a very high percentage that’s rare in America. That’s what qualifies this community for reality television – unless you live in Dearborn (or a handful of other places such as New York City), you probably don’t come into much contact with American Muslims.
And it’s true that, more than just about any other religious group you can name, the Muslim community in America could probably benefit from a TV series that shows them living lives that are just, well, ordinary since, for better or worse, many Americans don’t exactly view Muslims as “typical” Americans.
But TV is always looking for places to take viewers where viewers cannot necessarily go themselves. And insular communities — religious or otherwise — might be the next place for TV to take us.
We’ve already had various forays into Amish communities. And TLC’s “Sister Wives” deals openly with the little understood polygamy lifestyle. In addition, Oprah Winfrey herself visited a community of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn recently to observe rituals that outsiders don’t often see. The visit was reportedly filmed for a show on OWN called “Oprah’s Next Chapter” (no, her “next chapter” is not going to be a conversion to Hasidic Judiasm).
What’s next? “Sikhs and the City”? “The Joy of Sects”? Well, not that we’ve heard of those specific titles (which, we admit, we made up), but producers could do shows about Hasids, Sikhs, Hindus, Baha’i’s and other groups, and we would likely watch them.
Of course, religion is a topic that must be handled with care. We’ve all heard the old saying about avoiding discussions of religion and politics while at the dinner table.
But politics certainly gets a thorough going-over nightly on TV. So why not documentary-style reality shows about religions?