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Johnny Weir introduces himself to the nonskating crowd while wearing a blonde wig and drinking champagne. That would carry most shows, but Weir does it while sharing a bubble bath with his best friend.
Hopefully, the Olympic figure skating judges aren’t too judgmental. Otherwise, the kind of things they’re likely to see on Weir’s reality show “Be Good Johnny Weir” may prompt them to cover their eyes when it matters most.
Then again, there might be something deeper underneath those bubbles. Sandwiched between the flamboyant costumes and Weir’s equally flamboyant persona are some real life lessons.
Consider this wisdom, delivered by Weir, this time peering out from under a big fur coat, on how to be both good and bad in life.
“Being bad is in some ways being yourself,” he says. “Being good is also being yourself. Being good and being bad are both being yourself.”
That’s part of the beauty of reality TV. Tune in for a night or two and you’ll not only be entertained, but might learn something, too.
The lesson seems to be that any All-American boy can grow up to wear corsets and skate for his country in the Olympics. But it could also be that being bad is not necessarily a good career move for most athletes.
That’s apparently the premise behind “The Michael Vick Project,” which stars America’s most notorious dog killer and airs beginning early next month on BET. The opening episode features Vick returning to the scene of his despicable crimes to ruminate on how it all went bad at the Bad Newz Kennels.
A remorseful Vick eyes an empty dog bowl left behind, then eyes the camera as he tells how having dogs fight each other to the death once excited him in a way that playing in front of 70,000 fans on Sunday never could.
“This is hard to imagine myself doing this years ago, man,” Vick says.
It’s even harder to imagine what the producers will do to fill up the other nine scheduled episodes of the Vick series. The first show pretty much took care of the dog fighting, his precipitous fall from grace, and his reincarnation as a family man who plays catch with his young son and laughs with his daughters.
The Philadelphia Eagles took care of the rest, keeping Vick mostly on the bench and collapsing before cameras could record a redemptive Vick in a heartwarming run to the Super Bowl. About the only drama left is whether the Eagles want to pick up the $5.2 million option on Vick’s contract for next season.
Reality shows used to be the domain of the star-struck, the wannabes and the washed up. Lately they’ve become a platform for athletes either trying to cash in on their image or convince us they really do have a new one.
So we watch Weir chase gold, and Vick chase his demons. We see Terrell Owens receive the key to the city from the mayor of Buffalo, a move his honor surely now regrets.
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. pals around with rapper 50 Cent and shows off his “big boy” house. His last opponent, Juan Manuel Marquez, makes TV history by showing how he drinks his own urine.
John Daly, meanwhile, just drinks. At least he used to, that is, tearing through hotel rooms and ex-wives while never missing happy hour at the local Hooters.
What Daly will show us in his new series that the Golf Channel so relentlessly promotes can’t be nearly as good. Watching a strangely thin Daly miss putts to miss cuts is hardly must-see TV, even with the crazy pants.
That’s the problem with most athlete reality shows. Outside of Weir’s weird antics there’s usually not enough interesting stuff going on to fill five minutes of quality air time.
Sure, it’s a lot of fun to watch Serena Williams berate and threaten a judge for calling a foot fault. But a summer reality show with Serena and Venus Williams was so lame it lasted only a few episodes in 2005.
And would anyone have wanted to watch a reality show featuring Tiger Woods before his fall from grace? Even now it’s content better suited for the soap operas.
Soon we’re going to be behind the scenes with NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson on HBO’s 24/7 series. Johnson promised me last month that people will be surprised to see how interesting his life is, but even Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have problems filling 30 minutes a night for four weeks running.
That leaves us with Weir, whose series on the Sundance network will show him in the days leading to the Olympics. Hopefully cameras were rolling at the skating nationals last week when Weir wasn’t terribly pleased with his performance even though he made the U.S. team for the second straight time.
“My costume looked pretty,” Weir said, “so I’m happy about that.”
To which anyone watching can only say one thing: Go, Johnny, go.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org