No aspect of life can escape the far-reaching grasp of reality television. Think your college life is normal, humble and relatively free of sensationalism? If so, you’d be at odds with BET’s head honchos, who have created a new show called “College Hill” that explores the life of black students going to historically black universities and colleges. This show aims to showcase the black student experience while bringing you the excitement and drama of reality television.
Premiering in fall 2003, “College Hill” started its first season at Southern University in Louisiana. The first cast reflected a mix of students from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, who all had to live together in the same off-campus house. That season proved to be a whirlwind of drama and chaos, showcasing wild endeavors like onehouse member’s promiscuous behavior and another freshman-year member’s pregnancy. In the past season BET tried to represent a diverse spectrum of the black student body, even though BET still pushed for high ratings by sensationalizing the lives of the students and creating mini-dramas within the house.
Debuting Feb. 3, “College Hill: Spring 2005,” attempts to bring back the hype and excitement of the first season by creating a whole new cast of students in the new Oklahoma location of Langston University. The new “College Hill” house is located out in the boonies, a few miles away from the Langston campus. The new cast consists of eight undergraduates, ranging from freshmen to seniors.
Each cast member has already been designated their stereotypical roles in the house. Israel has been labeled the good-looking player. Britney, who happens to be Israel’s former freshmen-year girlfriend, plays the role of the crazy ex-girlfriend. Tanisha is the good, conservative, born-again Christian girl, while Jon is the wild, alternative black punk rocker, who frequently runs around the house naked while drunk.
Alva plays the role of the young mother, who is trying to pursue her education but must still deal with the issue of having kids while in college. The other characters in the house don’t have quite as distinct roles, but they do help facilitate and instigate the drama between the house members, who all happen to be emotional spark-plugs of some sort.
BET’s novice attempt to create exciting and dramatic reality television is somewhat lacking in quality. Unlike its counterpart program MTV’s “The Real World,” BET has not put the funds or production expertise into “College Hill” that MTV has into the “Real World.” Some of the same filming and production techniques coined by its predecessor, like the personal confessions in the black room and camera shots from all angles of the house, have been poorly attempted on “College Hill”. The entire show looks like it was shot by an amateur production crew and gives off the vibe of a ‘bootleg’ “Real World.”
Beyond production values, the “College Hill” cast members are depicted as over-dramatized stereotypes. Although BET tries to seriously present students of wide-ranging socioeconomic status, their attempts fail miserably and the cast members are pigeonholed into their hyperbolized characters.
Despite BET’s attempt to be innovative and groundbreaking, many people, especially members of the black community, who feel that “College Hill” is misrepresenting the black college experience, have criticized the show’s content.
The argument goes that now that BET is no longer fully black-owned and operated, the portrayals and quality of its productions has declined.
Lately BET’s programming features hours of music videos that depict rampant materialism and sexuality. As the station keeps in its frequent rotation the scandalous comedy show “Comic View,” it cuts its news hour with prestigious journalist, Tavis Smiley. The only news on BET now is a half-hour program at midnight
These program changes, intended to target the new hip hop urban youth, has made many politically aware individuals within the black community complain that BET has lost its community-oriented focus.
You may believe “College Hill” misrepresents blacks and is poorly produced, or you may feel that the show is good, fun entertainment and satisfies your cravings for reality television. Either way, “College Hill” is most likely not your reality.