TYSON ON ANIMAL PLANET : FOR THE BIRDS OR FOR THE PREY ?
"The pigeon. It's the first thing I ever loved in my life"
"No Iron, Just Mike" Tyson
WINGING IT - This Sunday evening March 6th, "Taking on Tyson" premiers on Animal Planet; an unlikely reality series based on of all things : pigeon racing. The hook involves the long-avowed pigeon lover, Mike Tyson.
For now at least, the nature network could have a potential dynamo in the resurging celebrity Tyson, or they could have a flame out freak show.
Luckily for the "reality TV" art form, most of what preview footage was available looked distinctly crisp with innovative intimate character, camera work and conversational clips. The show aspires to the same earthy charm Tyson often displays.
Let's hope Tyson continues to find a comfortable role playing himself with a respected perch in society. Will this program continue a successful Tyson rebranding?
Checking their program guide, you can tell that the Animal Planet's format has drastically changed since inception. The newly stated focus is on "human based", animal related programming, but any marketing department understands the reality of "Reality" is slamming sensations, not subtlety. Perhaps AP is going the skanky shoreline direction of MTV. I can't speak for the consumer base, but without having seen it a show like "Pit Boss" seems pretty demeaning.
As for "Taking on Tyson", many viewers relate to roots based themes and stock type characters who play against convention. Can the show grab the same appeal as something like "Deadliest Catch", without the suspense factor or impending risk?
Promotional clips give hope that broadcasting powers aim for higher ground and shoot for genuinely basic human interactions; absurd, poignant, real.
"I feel ridiculous even trying to explain it," says Tyson of his aerial passion. "My life sucked as a kid. I didn't go to school because I got bullied every day, that's why I got involved with pigeons."
At times the homespun yarn grows a bit thick, and tag lines like "He may have moved on from Brooklyn, but he took his love of pigeons with him" approach the level of parody, but overall the show exhibits a lot of genuine humanity and quality.
How far can nostalgia and normalcy go? Is there a possibility of another season?
Maybe they can follow a proven formula and find a charismatic veterinarian to play occasional sidekick and demonstrate/explain animal studies. Tyson is intellectual enough to put amusing spin on it. He's owned enough exotic pets (insert punch line) to have plenty of anecdotes.
Every week they could also, in recognition of Tyson's rough past, carry out some sort of charitable endeavor that effects a related character or situation in the neighborhood. Imagine scenes of Tyson on the rooftops, maybe helping out a different kid each week.
Pigeons are from the Columbidae family, with 300 species. Hanging out even for a brief period along riverfront Jersey or New York can produce sightings of more than twice that many odd ducks. If the show's producers get the right character cameos with Tyson as both tour guide and carnival barker, the show could be something rare: a zany reality, minus the crudity or self assumed sense of entitlement and narcissism.
If we start to see things like Snookie or The Situation as contestants, we'll know which way the project is headed, though the show's Jersey neighbors wouldn't be the worst guest stars marketing wise. If Tyson's crew is going to have guest stars, may they aim high and abstract.
With "Hangover 2" pending release and upcoming induction to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, much in Tyson's mercurial material world seems stable and satisfactory. There is little mention of the "other" sport in Tyson's life, but the iconic Tyson already carries a bright torch of consumer recognition for boxing by name or image alone.
The show is currently scheduled for six episodes, and reportedly provided Tyson with some considerable, much needed compensation.
Clearly, weight is on Tyson as foundation, catalyst and "talent" for the program.
Will it be a knockout coup that returns for an extended flight? Like many of his final fights, it looks like "Taking On Tyson" could go either way, but at least the odds aren't against him. History shows how much a focused, ready Tyson can achieve.
The camera still loves Tyson, a rare bird of prey and a sitting duck.
Here's hope that Tyson's current karma is good, and that he soars in this new opportunity.
With a positive persona, lets hope viewers flock to him.