Reality TV 2


Each man kills the thing he loves, according to Oscar Wilde so why should television be any different ? Once successful formats like DIY shows, docu-soaps, even celebrity chefs have gone from being de rigeur to persona non grata, a result of TV succumbing to over-kill.

Reality TV (a title that seems increasingly ironic) shows every sign of being here for the duration despite the addition of numerous celebrity offshoots and a recent glut that has included everything from The Anna Nicole Smith Show to Wife Swap, Lads Army to The Salon.

It’s not hard to see why the Celebrity version of these programmes had such instant appeal.

The British public’s appetite for celebrity has become insatiable, ranking alongside America’s. The greater the public’s appetite (be it for celebrity weddings or deaths, gossip or paparazzi pics), the more stars scramble for privacy – hiding behind privacy laws, bodyguards or an army of PRs. So a show like The Osbournes – which creates the illusion not just of seeing what a rockstar does at home with his family, but of actually living there with them – couldn’t fail. Perhaps this was the problem British viewers had with the walking car-crash that was The Anna Nicole Smith Show: they didn’t WANT to live with her.

Louis Theroux’s The Entertainers series had part of the viewing public fixated simply by offering them the chance to see celebrities washing their socks or go with them to the shops. This was despite the fact that most of them were no longer even celebrities but a selection of washed-up comics and game-show hosts from the 1970s.

Celebrity Big Brother – in which celebrities can be studied with even more scrutiny than normal, like insects in a jar – thrives because it offers the promise of celebrities “uncovered” – the person underneath the public image. It offers not just the chance of celebrities sleeping with one another, fighting with one another but being SEEN doing them. (Incidentally, to me The Big Fight – watching celebrities beat each other up – was a GREAT idea.)

But better yet, maybe they will crack up. This partly explains the success of Jamie’s Kitchen – in which viewers could – for a change – see Jamie Oliver under pressure, struggling, and generally losing it. It was also terrifically entertainment to see a group of kids failing to be impressed by, mocking him, and generally taking liberties, something no celebrity is either used to or enjoys. (In fact that may be WHY he was so tetchy.)

Personally, I wasn’t convinced by the idea that Oliver had that much to lose if the restaurant failed – certainly not (as he claimed) the deeds of his house. A programme in which celebrities actually have something material to lose, though, like their houses, would be great.

The widespread appeal of witnessing Vanessa Feltz and Les Dennis unravelling before our very eyes on Celebrity Big Brother or Christine Hamilton crying on Celebrity Who Wants To Be a Millionaire are now classic TV moments. It also points to the popularity of Get Me Out of Here I’m A Celebrity.

There is nothing we love more than seeing celebrities suffer and, as shows like these prove celebrities/ex-celebrities will do anything for the chance of resurrecting their careers and reviving the flame of their now-faded fame.

In the under-rated Celebrity Sleepover, for example, casualties like Frank Bruno and Jeremy Beadle suffered the ignominy of living in “normal” people’s houses for the weekend.

I predict that this trend has a long way to go yet. Eventually, the type of surreal torture that Vic & Bob inflict of contestants in the challenge that closes each episode of Shooting Stars will surely become an actual game-show – like a twisted version of Generation Game.

You could see The Entertainers as a cruel study of the emptiness of the lives of people like The Krankies living without fame.

I loved the IDEA of Celebrity Fit Club (or Celebrity Fat Club as it was known) as a weekly exercise in tormenting some of our most unpopular celebrities (Rik Waller, Ann Widdicombe and Jonno Coleman). But in practical terms, watching fat celebrities just being fat wasn’t that nice to actually watch.

The celebrity versions of The Weakest Link and Mastermind are terrifically satisfying shows, providing myriad opportunities for some of your most hated news readers, sports stars and Radio 1 DJs to confirm they are just as thick as you also thought they were, invariably at the same time as they try to demonstrate how clever they actually are.

Ann Robinson might as well bring her own barbeque on to the set, such is her delight and skewering and roasting them alive. It surely can’t be long before we have a harsher version of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. Celebrity Survivor -where a selection of soap stars, failed boy band members and daytime TV presenters, are seen shitting in the woods and living off termites – is just be an Extreme version of Superstars.

Celebrities – especially fading or former celebrities – it seems will do anything for fame. It’s little wonder that the public are desperate for a piece. Our appetite for watching Reality TV shows is now becoming matched only by the willingness to appear on them.

Now magazine recently ran a huge spread titled Reality TV Changed Our Lives, with the participants splashed all over the front page – as if to show that, even if it had gone wrong, they were now stars.

The risk of both the humiliation and public ridicule and the reward of fame and all its fortunes are the same for the public as the celebrities. Look at what has happened to Jeremy Spake, Darius or Nasty Nick Bateman who have experienced both.

The question that viewers at home who would never go on such shows often demand to know is why on earth anyone would do these shows, put themselves through the abuse or scrutiny.

The answer of course is fame, or fantasies they have about fame, and, to a lesser degree, money.

It’s ironic that members of the public participating in work-related docu-soaps like Airline, Rail Cops or Lad’s Army may get enough exposure or popularity to leave the job that gave them the platform in the first place.

In many ways, it’s amazing that this type of show took so long. After all, the fly-on-the-wall shows about, say, hospitals or the police have been popular for years.

The success of the first series of Faking It has now spawned Wife Swap – itself a variation on the under-rated, over-looked Living With The Enemy.

This was based on the idea of locking people who should never have been together in the same room and filming the chaos and the mess that results. In a way it was a progression from the couples who hated each other in the early, pre-sanitised, series of Blind Date. It’s television as a platform for people we love to hate.

Big Brother always gets weaker the longer it goes on because the characters like Sada get voted out first.

Wife Swap was probably the closest British TV has come to the trailer-trash voyeurism that The Jerry Springer Show
played on so well, but was enthralling nonetheless.

Partly we can’t believe there are people like that out there. We are also curious to see how they will change. The couple in the first edition of Wife Swap for example Sonia and Lance, split up.

It’s hard to see how the appeal of these shows will ever fade given that programmes like this basically thrive on our innate love of spying/being nosey. We watch Big Brother – especially the E4 live coverage – because it is a totally accessible version of endlessly fascinating habits we all have like looking into the neighbours’ house across the road or in next door’s back garden.

Having long been an advocate of the view that real people, members of the public, are more interesting than celebrities I prefer these shows.

I also prefer Big Brother, Wife Swap or even The Salon to the competitive strain of Reality TV – shows like Popstars: The Rivals, Fame Academy, or Pop Idol.

As is the case with celebrities, pop-stars, actors or models, talent to me is not interesting. In fact that seems the least of our concerns.

In pop music especially, the real icons of the last 50 years couldn’t necessarily sing anyway and in television, Personality is much more important.

Given the utterly vapid content of the teen idols and boy-bands dominating the charts these days, it seems a bit of a contradiction, not to say a waste of time, caring or complaining about whether individual contestants can actually sing.

Then again, I suppose it would be nice if they had a LITTLE bit more talent than the saps in Fame Academy.

In a way, for me, the ultimate reality TV show is Model
Behaviour, in which for the early stages at least, contestants do not even have to speak, let alone perform, just look good. This really is the TV version of being in a night-club or on at the beach, eyeing up the talent.

Model Behaviour was actually hampered by the ‘synergy’ of introducing a Big Brother element when in the latter stages the ‘winners’ started to live together.

Like Pop Idol, the best bit of Model Behaviour was the earliest episodes – the auditions.

Watching thousands and thousands of ordinary, often unemployed, kids from anonymous, nowhere towns all over the country coming into cities like Glasgow and Manchester to queue up for the chance to just walk down a makeshift catwalk, it was really striking how many great-looking, brilliant personalities must be out there.

In series like Pop Idol and Jamie’s Kitchen, it is the spectacle of watching the progress of all these young people’s hopes and failures that makes them so compulsive and so popular.

Seeing them week after week turns the audience into the contestants’ friends, their brothers and sisters, their parents – inwardly willing them on, sharing their elation or helplessly experiencing their despair.

This is what Reality TV does best and should do more of.
Or to put in another way, Who needs celebrities ?