Barry Levinson's film "Avalon" includes a scene at a large family gathering, set about 1950, showing everyone in front of an early TV set, totally awed, all eyes lasered to a single stagnant image on the tiny screen.
A nonstop test pattern.
I thought of that recently, and how not only did Levinson's 1990 film deliver a message about TV's dangerously seductive nature, but also how this scene foreshadowed the hottest of today's new "reality" shows.
Not the derivative group predicated on competition, but newer shows that chronicle the tedious minutiae of daily life. Think MTV's smash hit "The Osbournes."
It was then that I realized I was sitting on a gold mine. So I phoned my friend Joe, who's in series development at one of the major networks, and persuaded him to give me a meeting.
Over lunch, I told him I had an idea for a blockbuster series. "It would be a process show," I said.
"A process show?"
"The process of people leading dull lives."
"Well, me, mostly."
Joe was skeptical. "You on TV?"
"I'm extremely dull."
"I know," Joe said. "I read your column."
"Just hear me out," I said. "What I have in mind is so spiritless, so aggressively tiresome and uniquely dry that viewers will find it irresistible."
"Look," Joe said, eyeing me wearily beneath thick lids. "We're already doing dull. So you'd need some kind of reality hook. What would be distinctive about your dullness?"
"My job, for one thing."
Joe sat up straight and his baby blues sparkled. "You mean ... ?"
"Yes. I make my living watching dull shows, some of them excruciatingly dull."
"And what you envision, what you see for us is a dull show capturing you in your office at home each week as you watch other dull shows?"
"Exactly. A wall, a monolith of the lackluster. An impenetrable dose of unimpassioned dullness no one else on TV could match."
"Keep talking," Joe said.
"Here's the payoff. The shows I'm talking about are so tedious that I often doze off while watching them."
Joe was now taking notes furiously. Then he looked at me squarely. "And when you doze off, do you snore?"
"All the time."
"I dig it, I dig it. What else?"
"Well, there's some flat gray paint peeling on a wall in my office."
"Right. So we go tight on that each week for three or four minutes. Tell me more."
"I get deliveries, you know, tapes of shows brought to my house for me to review."
"Do you talk to the people who deliver the tapes?"
"I say hi, they say hi. I say thanks, they tell me I'm welcome."
"This is working, really working. What else happens?"
"We could start each episode with the camera on me as I wake up in the morning. The alarm goes off, and I hit the snooze."
"No, two, maybe three times."
"You know, it's the old bladder thing. I stumble into the bathroom, and my wife always yells out for me to lift the seat. Then I brush my teeth."
"That's really dull."
"Do you know any dull people besides your wife?"
"My friends are as dull as I am. Our conversations are meaningless and obtuse. And I talk to my elderly mother pretty regularly on the phone."
I'd brought along a tape of me talking to her long distance, and played it for Joe.
Hello, Mom. I said hello. HELLO! What do you mean you can hear? If you can hear, why did you ask me what I said? I SAID WHY DID YOU ASK ME WHAT I SAID?
I was pleased to see Joe's eyes glaze over as the tape ran. "That is so incredibly boring," he said. "I've rarely heard anything as monotonous."
"You're such a pro. I knew you'd like it."
"Like it? I love the show's entire concept. There's enough right here for a pilot, and I can promise you a winner. We'll call it 'The Dull Life of a Dull Man.' "
"Isn't it amazing what people will watch?" I said.
"It's the old story," Joe said. "They don't call it reality for nothing."
Howard Rosenberg's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be contacted at howard.rosenberg@ latimes.com.