Does Reality TV Exist?
Andrew and his girlfriend of four years, Patricia, had an intense argument last night. It revolved around siblings, alcohol, and potential pregnancy.
We now arrive at Friday morning. Patricia is making eggs Benedict as a friendly gesture, when Andrew comes downstairs wearing his morning after robe, both of them are in the deep pit of a foul hangover. They both sit down to eat, but before they start, four people in black t-shirts walk in and set up a 200 watt LED light panel on either side of the room, with a long light reflecting panel across the kitchen counter, and a boom microphone stand now hovers above the couple’s heads. Now they can have that discussion, but keep the profanity to a minimum, please.
This an example of shows that have emerged in the past five years in the UK, such as Channel 4’s ‘Made in Chelsea’ and ITV’s prime asset ‘The Only Way is Essex’. These shows are defined as ‘scripted reality’ or ‘pseudo reality’ TV shows, and they are all the rage.
Of course this was not always the standard. Reality TV emerged with candid camera programmes, before fly on the wall studies after the watershed emerged, amateur talent shows bred Z-list celebrities and ‘Big Brother’ took us into the new millennium. What we see now is the suspension of disbelief being stretched out as far as possible by producers, in order to replicate stories usually seen in tea time soap operas, with the notion that these ‘characters’ carry on their lives in exactly the same way after the credits roll. The unrealistic portrayal of Essex residents on ITV2 has led to locals allegedly accusing the show of lowering housing prices, as people don’t want to be associated with the media’s image of them; questionable, but entirely possible.
Anybody who has tried to even make a short film for a college class or side project knows that tireless efforts must be made to create an image that appears perfect, and interference in a conversation between two or more people is intrusive, and results in the least natural dialogue on the planet. What’s more is that in order to run through enough social milestones in a half an hour slot, characters must be nudged towards each other to create confrontation. The result is a bastardized version of what is labelled as reality. This new concept is one that is extremely successful, at the same time as having no regard for the intelligence of the audience, whilst underestimating the knowledge that the 21st century viewer has of the media they consume.
This isn’t denying that the concept clearly swindles enough of the general public for renewal season after season of the same formula, and this fact is backed up by the prevalence of the target audience across social media networks, twitter especially largely due to the encouragement of #hash tag posts via a prompt in the corner of the screen after each ‘plot’ milestone.
Stateside, shows like ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’, whose Producer Russell Jay recently stated a marriage proposal in the show was re-shot with a more ‘surprised’ reaction, and ‘America’s next top model’ on the CW, gain popularity with the idea of modern day excuses for starlets as main characters. These shows’s popularity is strengthened much more by celebrity than strong writing.
The ‘cast’ are held by the networks to maintaining a characteristic facade for the benefit of keeping consistent with the in show story-lines for the viewers. The stake of the ratings means that the ‘cast’ must keep up appearances in the same manner a boy band has to for the sake of their record sales. Morgan Langley, producer of ‘Cops’, a show widely reputed as having a high purity of reality, recently stated “I think that evolution into faux-reality happened by necessity, as it is very difficult to shoot a show like Cops.” In the end, When the action in front of the camera has to compete with police officers making drug busts and dissolving hostage situations, you can believe that some fiction will slip into the mix, and this will be the only ‘reality’ we will see for years to come.