LITTLE PEOPLE, BIG WORLD airs Mondays at 8 pm on TLC. Rating: NNN
Myth: there's nothing good on tv in the summer.
Fact: there are at least a couple of shows worth tuning in to, and I'm not talking about Dawson's Creek and Diff'rent Strokes reruns on TBS. Although I could be.
You just have to think outside the box - and further up the dial. (If you find yourself watching 50 Most Shocking Celebrity Scandals on Star!, you've gone too far, wa-a-a-ay too far.)
I've never had any interest in watching a show about dwarfs, unless they were storming a castle full of orcs.
But a friend of mine turned me on to Little People, Big World up on the Learning Channel. It's now in its third season, and I'm hooked.
Who knew that the mundane day-to-day lives of an average American family, three of whom happen to be little people, could be so engrossing?
Of course, the show's initial appeal (LPBW is a ratings winner in the key 18-to-49 age demographic, and as a result TLC airs episodes several times each week) is of the dare-to-stare variety, voyeurism without the guilt or fear of being caught.
If you've ever hummed along with the Lollipop Guild, you know that little people have long been treated as something of an amusement, to be stared at, laughed at, treated like children, discriminated against.
But the little people who star in the reality series are hardly portrayed in a freak-show kind of way. In fact, they're boringly normal.
The series follows the lives of the Roloffs, a family of six living on a farm near Portland, Oregon.
Mom and Dad Matt and Amy are both little people, as is one of their sons, 15-year-old Zach, while Zach's twin brother and two other siblings are of normal stature.
Little People, Big World is not exactly the stuff of high drama.
Matt's a successful businessman, Amy's a soccer mom and the kids are troublemakers and slobs - in other words, typical teenagers.
They do their homework, clean their rooms, go shopping, play sports, goof around, learn to drive. The most exciting thing on the show happens when 10-year-old Jacob Roloff gets hit on the head by the family's homemade trebuchet, a medieval catapult they use to fling pumpkins.
In a sense, LPBW is like The Cosby Show, only the feel-good family has a few dwarfs in it. Like Cliff and Clair Huxtable, Matt and Amy Roloff are smart, well-intentioned parents trying to instill good values in their occasionally unruly children.
This seems a good place to point out that the term "midget," which is still commonly used (midget wrestling, for example), is roughly equivalent to the N word, although you won't hear any of the hip Roloff kids calling each other "my midga."
While it's heartening to watch the Roloffs deal with typical family issues that everyone can relate to - albeit from a little person's point of view - I have to wonder, if they weren't little people, would I still be watching?
And the answer is probably not.
The Roloffs don't provide the spectacle of, say, Howard Stern sidekick Hank "the Angry Drunken Dwarf" Nasiff. But I have to admit that I do catch myself staring when Zach plays soccer or Amy tries to reach the pedals in the family van, and that's an uncomfortable truth.
Yet I and millions of others do watch each week. The show has become so popular that the Roloff farm now gets 30,000 visitors a year, most of whom would probably buy their fruits and vegetables at their local market if it weren't for the TV show.
Which has to be a bizarre experience for them.
Suddenly, they find themselves signing autographs. They've had to install a security fence around their property to keep out unwanted and overzealous fans.
In presenting little people as like everyone else, the Roloffs have become celebrities with lives that are now very different.
I wonder how they feel about being famous because of their stature, not in spite of it.
WHAT TO WATCH THIS WEEK
Saturday, June 30
Shear Genius (Reality) The claws are out in this hairdresser showdown hosted by former Charlie's Angel Jaclyn Smith.
8 pm on Slice
Tuesday, July 3
Footie (Documentary) With the Toronto FC playing to sellout crowds, this two-part doc about soccer in Canada (where it really is bigger than hockey) comes at just the right time.
9 pm on Sun TV