Dean Minnich: Conflicted about reality shows, including news

I learned to cook by watching the cooking channel.

When I discovered the channel, it was all about how-to, techniques and recipes, with tips and step by step instructions.

A guy named David Rosengarten was the primary featured cook and critic. He worked from a bare-bones set, white background, stainless steel shelving, uncluttered table or cooktop. Cooked with gas, too. I liked that.

Anyway, I got hooked. Then I started recording cooking shows off MPT -- the Frugal Gourmet, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and America's Test Kitchen -- a lot of cooking shows.

Then some marketing nitwit decided that to keep things fresh, you had to combine cooking with arm wrestling or something. We had smackdowns, showdowns, challenges -- it started with a Japanese import called the Iron Chef.

They even had competition for the Next Food Network Star, and ruined the channel.

Everything was about the conflict, and it became so artificial and phony that I probably watch less than half what I used to.

Fake conflict is everywhere. Of course, the first thing you learn in creative writing is that your protagonist must encounter a conflict: Man against man, man against nature, etc.

Love stories always go Boy Meets Girl, gets rejection, then boy gets girl, then boy loses -- or almost loses girl. Happy endings are they lived happily ever after. Love Story broke the mold and earned a gazillion dollars because girl dies.

In news, it's not a story if dog bites man, but if man bites dog. If congressman bites congressman, it's good for four days of coverage and follows, and Face the Nation on Sunday TV.

I cannot bear to watch all 14 Survivor episodes; too predictably staged. Nor do I like the talent competitions, which have become screaming contests or all about the potshots that the judges make to the competitors and each other.

But I liked to end the evening with a nice House Hunters show; it was easy to stay awake for one more half hour, and there was a glimpse of various geographic locations as well as the fun of relating to a couple buying a nice new home.

Increasingly, though, it was about conflict; the clash between spouses, or with the real estate agent, whatever.

And then comes the revelation that House Hunters, too, is fake. They even have the couples wandering around houses that are not really for sale, so they can push the conflict angle.

I can always read a book. Or go to bed early.