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11/7/2013
Getting real

God-fearing Americans that we are, we don’t always agree with the decisions they make over in China. Certainly, that government’s track record on political and religious tolerance isn’t great. And hindsight being what it is, everyone can agree that Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution — programs that ultimately killed millions of people — were a bit of a mistake.

However, when it comes to regulating television content, we think they might be on to something.

For those who missed the story, the organization that oversees programming in China is going to start strictly limiting the amount of Chinese reality television shows. Each provincial broadcaster will be allowed one prime-time reality television show per channel. Even better, those channels will be required to spend at least 30 percent of their air time on “news, economics, culture and science,” according to The Associated Press.

While this is doubtless a bitter pill to swallow for the Chinese people, who reportedly watch Chinese versions of “American Idol” and “The Voice” en masse, we think it’s a great idea.

We’ve watched reality TV for years and are hard-pressed to come up with one single thing we’ve gained from the experience, other than an artificial sense of satisfaction that our lives are in a better place than those of the cast of “Jersey Shore.” What has reality TV given us, other than a reason to avoid cleaning that garage, stop doing our homework, not go for that run, or put off calling that friend we need to catch up with?

Watching reality TV is like eating cotton candy: It’s light-weight, and it’s not good for you. China has the answer: Still eat it, but in smaller doses. After all, how many different versions of “Real Housewives” do we really need?

It’s not like American programmers wouldn’t adapt. We are, after all, a country of innovators. Some programs would disappear, but others could be combined. The “Real Housewives” wives can go hunting with the “Duck Dynasty” crew. The “America’s Next Top Model” gang can start chowing down on hot-sauce drenched five-pound burritos with the guy from “Man v. Food.” It would work itself out, and we’d all have more time to be productive.

Now, in full disclosure, we should mention some are speculating that China’s new rules are a way to push viewers back to state-run programming, which is apparently having a hard time competing with “American Idol.” But regardless of the motivation, there is still a tangible benefit to be had for many in China.

The U.S. government isn’t going to tell us what we can or can’t watch. But let’s all keep China’s example in mind the next time we are alone in a room with our television.