NEW YORK — Yes, things are coming down to the wire, presidentially speaking; nobody knows what's going to happen on November 2 (and, potentially, November 3, 4, 5, and so on, if the Daily Show's tagline "Prelude to a Recount" has any truth to it).
All sorts of pundits and prognosticators have rubbed their chins, scrunched up their foreheads, and engaged in various other sorts of facial massage in order to indicate that been really, really, really, thinking hard about who's going to win, and trying their best to earn their television appearance fees while stuffing their comments with enough hedges to allow a gardener to retire comfortably to Florida and get his vote thrown out at the polls.
I myself will not engage in any such rubbing, scrunching, massaging, or hedging: I will cheerfully admit that I have absolutely no idea who is going to win. For every sign that seems to indicate a Kerry advance, there seems to be one showing a Bush surge: for each new revelation of problems in Iraq or administration policies calculated to benefit the few at the expense of the general populace, there's well, there's another day that Kerry hasn't managed to make undecided voters figure out why they should vote for him.
But there's one trend that I haven't seen remarked upon by the chattering classes, a trend which I think can be placed solidly in the "good signs for Kerry" category. No, not the Red Sox winning the World Series for the first time since 1918; that's been done to death. I'm talking about the resuscitation of another entity on the edge of collapse and disaster.
Remember at the end of last year, and the beginning of this year, everyone was convinced that reality television shows were king, that their lower costs and generally star-free casts meant that they could be made by the dozens, and that television writers were getting ready to jump out of windows all over Burbank and Century City.
But so far, the shows with all the buzz are scripted (and scripted dramas, yet), and the two with the biggest buzz don't even have "CSI" in front of their names: "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives." Conversely, look at how reality television is doing: "The Next Great Champ" had to burn off most of its episodes on cable; "The Benefactor" quickly limped to a close; and shows like "The Apprentice" aren't garnering nearly the ratings and watercooler gossip they did last year.
It seems to me that this may well be a good sign for the Democratic presidential candidate. My theory is that reality television - which seemed, when it came out, like a genre perfectly placed to reflect Americans' presumed interest in seeing people that seemed like them in positions of power and celebrity - has lost its sparkle.
Whatever excitement came from the frisson of seeing people just like you has faded in the twin realizations of: a) the whole thing isn't "real", it's all scripted anyway; and b) the script isn't so great - the shows' editing, structure, dialogue, all seem the same, and the people who are supposed to be just like you have ended up being remarkably different.
Is it too much of a stretch to see reality television as the genre of George W. Bush? The man who has taken great pains to seem like an ordinary guy, but, well, isn't? Whose response, no matter what the situation, is pretty much the same? Whose interactions with the media, the public, the rest of the world - with the exception of the debates - seem entirely scripted? Whose actions, legislatively and otherwise, seem to show a different man from the one on the stump in 2000?
If this is the case, then this season's early returns may be some sort of early indicator of a change of mood. More of the same is out; innovative newness back in. Inarticulateness is out; smart writing and polished dialogue back in. Needing to see people on television just like you is out; looking at different people who appealed to your sense of craft and excellence, back in.
Does this translate into any support for Kerry? Who knows? I'm not going to risk this cushy job by making predictions. All I can say is that whatever happens at the polls, the producers of "The Simple Life 3", the Richard Branson reality series, and the Sylvester Stallone reality boxing series are watching the ratings and are getting very nervous. And I can't help feeling that's good for America.