I used to be obsessed with Reality TV. Obsessed. Now my love affair is over.
It all started back in 2001, the first year of Big Brother in Australia. The Bum Dance! Dancing Doonas! I was so obsessed that I planned my social schedule around the show. I moved cities (and states) during the show and when the interstate movers called me to let me know that all of our possessions, including the TV, were to be delayed over the entire weekend, leaving me without a television on which to watch the weekly elimination show, I promptly checked myself into a hotel for the night. Just for the TV. The next decade was spent watching more reality television than you could poke a stick at. And not just Australian reality television – oh no. I became addicted to American and English reality TV as well as the odd show from New Zealand (Police Ten 7 = heaven).
Last year, everything began to change for me. Somewhere around the time that Honey Boo Boo hit its peak (yes I was obsessed with that as well), I found myself no longer experiencing any joy from the shows I was watching and, program by program, I began to switch off. I no longer cared what happened to the Real Housewives of New Jersey or their counterparts in Beverly Hills, nor did I give a damn whether or not the Survivors survived.
So, why did I suddenly start to turn off? I think there are two main reasons for it.
Firstly, the so-called ‘reality’ displayed on these shows in 2014 is worlds apart from the actual reality we used to see when these sorts of shows began to gain popularity in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Some of them are so obviously scripted it’s laughable. If you’ve ever seen the brilliant 1994 Australian movie Muriel’s Wedding, you may remember that Muriel’s father kept on ‘bumping’ into a woman, Deirdre, who he was obviously shagging (“Deirdre! Deirdre Chambers! What a coincidence! Pull up a chair, love.”) – just like one of the favourite ploys of reality television producers. Those ‘chance’ encounters that only seem to happen when the cameras are present are about as believable as the idea of anyone from Mob Wives opening an etiquette school.
Secondly, the product has been dumbed down so much that watching most reality shows feels like being spoon-fed. Every time there’s a ‘big twist’, I can almost hear the producers saying “Here comes the aeroplane!” as they spoon-feed me like a child who can’t do anything for itself. Sadly, reality has become a caricature of itself and now represents a greater level of fiction than most scripted programs.
Unfortunately reality continues to dominate because it’s cheap and quick to make. Offerings have been dumbed down to appeal the widest possible audience, and scripted programs have become less common because they cost more to make. It’s the same shenanigans that have ruined the movie industry – why take a risk on something that could be great, when it’s easier and less risky to regurgitate the same drivel over and over again. Kardashians, I’m looking at you.
Interestingly, I’m not alone on this. I started writing this blog yesterday then put it in drafts, and then this morning I was driving my partner to work when my favourite breakfast radio team (Chrissie Swan and Jane Hall on Mix 101.1 Melbourne) were discussing whether or not reality TV is in its death throes. Considering Chrissie Swan initially became famous for being the runner-up on Big Brother Australia in 2003 (and has leveraged from her talent to build a strong media career since then), it’s fairly clear that the backlash is in full swing. One of the main drivers for this discussion is the current drama surrounding this year’s season of The Bachelor Australia, which basically involves The Bachelor dumping his chosen bride-to-be after the engagement and shacking up with the third-place contestant. Yawn. Who would ever have thought that a show where one man whittles his way through 30-odd women in the space of two months to find “The One” could possibly be contrived and fake? What a shock. Not.
I yearn for the return of quality, scripted programming. Interestingly we’re seeing a strong move towards this sort of content by major online players like Netflix and Hulu Plus, as well as HBO and Showtime. Give me Game of Thrones over Bridezillas any day – at least the weddings on Game of Thrones are far more interesting. It will be intriguing to see how long the major television networks continue to flog the dying horse of reality for. In the meantime, I’m ditching House Rules to watch House of Cards. Something tells me that the character of Frank Underwood is probably a helluva lot closer to reality than anything ‘reality’ television can throw our way.
An Extra Thought:
A quick recommendation in line with today’s blog post. This year, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia’s public broadcaster) ran a panel discussion series called ‘Reality Check’, which looked at the reality television industry in a tongue-in-cheek manner (with the same format as The Gruen Transfer, the brilliant show that deconstructs the world of advertising). The show takes a fairly impartial view, it was interesting to find out about the behind-the-scenes processes from the panel, made up mostly of reality show producers. I highly recommend watching it (it should still be on ABC iView), if only for the wit and insights of the brilliantly-charming Marion Farrelly, who has produced massive shows like Big Brother. It might sound odd to be recommending a show about reality television on the ABC, however let’s not forget that it was the ABC that kick-started the whole reality thing in Australia with ‘Sylvania Waters’ in 1992. That cringe-inducing show about a not-so-ordinary family became a massive hit and, in true reality TV style, the matriarch of the family, Noelene, even released a single. Truly a sign of the apocalypse to come.