TV trauma on the Plaza
The night before Sonoma's own Ben Flajnik had his marriage proposal spurned by "Bachelorette" Ashley Hebert, the two were lip-locked with legs entwined, on a bed, before a national TV audience of millions. The passion was palpable.
But later, when Ashley appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show with the winning candidate, newly anointed fiancé J.P. Rosenbaum, and Kimmel showed a clip of Ashley's tryst with Ben the night before she accepted J.P.'s proposal, she berated Kimmel, exclaiming, "Jimmy, how dare you."
That comment, even made laughingly, underscored the deep sense of unreality inherent in the genre of romance reality TV. Because it requires an illogical suspension of disbelief to think that true love can be found in front of millions of voyeurs, or viewers, with every intimate moment played out in front of churning TV cameras and who knows how many directors, technicians and production assistants. That Ashley and J.P. may, in fact, have found something real with each other, does not contradict the ultimate absurdity, entertaining as it may be to watch, of made-for-TV romance.
But while we confess to a healthy disdain for the very premise of such shows, we have a soft spot for Ben Flajnik. Now cast as the next star of "The Bachelor," Flajnik - besides being a native son - is by all appearances a thoughtful, intelligent young man, brilliantly positioned to milk maximum exposure for his wine label while riding the Hollywood tiger one more time.
But the absence of a reality anchor seems to have infected "The Bachelor's" production crew, which invaded the Sonoma Plaza en masse Friday, with at least half-a-dozen simultaneous on-camera interviews taking place while a small army of camera operators, sound technicians, directors, producers and assorted crew taped comments by Ben and the "Bachelor" contestants for inclusion in upcoming segments.
Because of the magnitude of the production, the ubiquity of cameras and crew occupying Sonoma's iconic central square, and the enduring public interest in Ben's romantic adventures, we photographed and videotaped part of the action for the Index-Tribune and the sonomanews.com website.
But our efforts to cover a legitimate news story, on public property, a block from our office, were met by some crew members with objection, anger, even rage. We were repeatedly told we could not record the crew's activities, told we had no right to film there and were ordered to leave.
To be fair, some crew members were polite and gracious, as they asked us to go away. Others were openly hostile. But they all seemed oblivious to the fact that, in setting up their cameras in the middle of Sonoma's most popular and public place, they were inviting the attention they claimed they wanted to avoid. There is no dearth of romantic winery settings, hereabouts, in which to shoot with total privacy. But the Plaza is public, we're local and we will cover what happens here.
The ultimate absurdity came in a telephone threat from a studio publicist who warned that if we didn't cooperate and leave we would be denied any future access or interviews.
A chill ran through our heart.