Thursday, July 12, 2007

'Inventor' Suspense Show

For Pensacola Beach residents, last night's installment of ABC's American Inventor reality show was unexpectedly suspenseful. Scores of Carlos Patrick Reid's family, friends, and supporters were kept on the very edge of their seats nearly the entire hour.

The drama wasn't in whether Patrick would make it through the Tampa regional finals with his "Reid rebuilding blocks" idea for hurricane-proof housing. It was whether local WEAR-TV (Channel 3) would show anything of Patrick's presentation at all.

It seems a small summer storm front was passing over southeastern Alabama -- big surprise, there -- and WEAR's weather man, Alan Strum, thought it so exceptional he interrupted the program (but never the commercials) three or four times to extemporize about it. He clumsily played with his computer, zoomed in and out with graphics that smothered the entire home TV screen, and endlessly -- endlessly! -- repeated himself.

How many ways can you say "there might be a short, sharp rainstorm coming"? Alan Strum invented at least a couple dozen. Each was identical to the others except for the stammering, hemming, and hawing.

It got so bad, so we hear, that a friend of Reid's called the wife of the station manager at home to complain.

Perhaps thanks to that call, or to the fact that the storm quickly dissipated, Strum was silenced just before Patrick made his climactic and convincing inventor's pitch near the end of the hour. Given the predominantly negative reviews American Inventor has gotten since its inception (the "worst unscripted outing to hit the airwaves in many a moon," according to the Chicago Tribune), producer Simon Cowell might want to consider using Alan Strum to inject more weather hysteria into every show.

As Matthew Gilbert observed in the Boston Globe when "American Inventor" first hit the airwaves, "the show is modeled -- sometimes too closely -- after ''American Idol." But --
The series also tries to make itself into something of a national savior. As judge and inventor Doug Hall tells us, "We've got to reignite the spirit of invention in America. If we don't, in five years we're all going to be working for the folks in India and China."
A noble ambition. But as Gilbert also pointed out, the reality of American Inventor seems quite different:
[W]ade through the exaggeration, and you'll find a ''Bladder Buddy" enabling men and women to urinate in public, a ''Space-Beetle Utopia" for pet insects, and edible-snow-globe cookie kits presented by a woman who looks and sings like Dolly Parton. These and the many other groovy notions are the show's real stars, even if they're nothing compared to the sheer genius of ''Cheese Go-Rounds."
Last night, instead of a bladder buddy we saw such goofy ideas (in between endless commercials and weather alerts) as a doggie bath tub that looks like nothing more than a Rubbermaid box with scissored holes for pooch's head and tail; a 'tongue brush' for teeth; and a 'mammary mattress' for victims of breast augmentation. There was worse on offer, too, including an idea for a skin rec0loring pill pitched by a fellow who must have been on a 6-hour pass from the funny farm.

Against that kind of competition, Patrick Reid's idea for lego-style building blocks made of composite plastics looked positively genius. Seth Plattner, who live-blogs American Inventor and has to know a whole more about such things than we do, agrees. He writes:
This might be the most planning we've seen behind an invention, and these plastic building blocks--like big legos--are pretty amazing. Because you can cover the blocks with siding and what not, it make sense because it won't be aesthetically displeasing. And more than that it will be cheap and might even revolutionize making housing communities for those who can't necessarily afford it. And man is he tugging on my heart strings! Peter really had no choice but to give him a chance, right?
So, our own inventive idol, Carlos Patrick Reid, easily won approval from the four "judges" and will go on to the next round. The only downer is that his idea not only was best in show -- it really is a terrific idea on its own merits. He could have beat much stiffer competition, had there been any.

Commercial television defiles nearly everything it touches. Baseball (the designated hitter rule), football (TV timeouts), basketball (the shot clock), news (Brit Hume), and representative democracy (George Bush's election in 2000), to name just a few examples. So as we watched American Inventor last night we shouldn't have been surprised to discover that too many times by giving air time to so many crackpots the show actually demeaned, rather than exalted, the inventive spirit.

Patrick is no crackpot. His "rebuilding blocks" may have to surmount some challenging patent law and marketing hurdles, but it's a sound idea with potentially wide application that could bring relief to tens of millions of hurricane, flood, and fire victims. If American Inventor does nothing more than help bring this one inspired idea to fruition, it will have performed a genuine public service that the entire television industry can be proud of.

We'll be tuning in to coming installments of American Inventor. Next time, we hope the local weatherman does, too.


Gregory Siener said...

I think Carlos Reids idea was excellent. In fact, I have been working on getting a product like this patented for some time. I have worked with mold designers and plastics engineers for several years to finally get a patent pending status last year. Check out to find out more information on this idea.

viagra online said...

I almost never watch TV, but I like to watch reality shows because it's real life. It is all about things we experience every day so I identify with them. said...

Pretty helpful data, thanks so much for this article.