Reality television is a huge part of contemporary program scheduling and has grown vastly over the last decade, particularly with the arrival of Big Brother in the early noughties.
As a Boulevarider, reality TV first entered my sphere in the late 1980s when reruns were shown of the 1970s show, The Family. It was then called a fly-on-the-wall documentary and followed the Wilkins’ family from Reading, originally made and screened in the 1970s. We followed their daily lives and viewed everything – warts and all. It felt so voyeuristic and I watched with wonder at their transparency, and entered their homes and existences. Today we might refer to it as car crash viewing but then it felt fresh, innovative and just so exposing.
I forgot about the format as it seemed to disappear and pressed through the 1990s and was aware of the format again with the first UK series of Big Brother. My flatmate had recommended that we watch it. We were glued from the first episode. I lived the ups and the downs and was instantly taken with the sheer pantomime. Who remembers Nick from the first series? I literally despised him and championed Craig who exposed his scheming! As soon as the series ended I was looking for the next.
Big Brother grew with the second series, as did my viewing pleasure. I carried on as a devoted fan through to series eight and partially watched series nine and ten. At the height of its popularity and my excitement I would throw Big Brother parties and invite friends who were also addicted to drink and BBQ while we watched the final few housemates emerge. We had shock, anger, tears and laughter and enjoyed every moment.
It seemed that the success of Big Brother and other shows, such as Survivor, catapulted the genre into the juggernaut it is today.
Talent shows like Pop Idol and The X Factor have maintained mainstream appeal.
However, a percentage of the mainstream has fallen out of love with reality television. There is not the same excitement among friends when new series start and the Facebook chat has slowed down also. I however, stay excited and shocked in equal measure at the shenanigans these shows portray. I completely immerse and believe everything I see. Well I believe while I am watching anyway.
When asked why I watch such shows I tend to attempt a response which provides intellectual reasoning.
‘I think it’s an anthropological study.’ or
‘The insight psychologically is amazing!’
While this reasoning is true and I hope gives me credibility, I also love the characters and their tomfooleries.
I can’t live without The Kardashians or Honey BooBoo. How could I sleep if I didn’t know the latest goings on in LA and rural Georgia?
The Hills started faux reality TV where most of the events are true but accentuated and some scenes are set up for our viewing pleasure. This resulted in UK versions such as TOWIE, Made in Chelsea and Desperate Scousewives. I loved them all. My excitement for TOWIE has waned and Desp Scousers was cancelled, but Made is Chelsea is still epic viewing. I don’t care if some of the scenes are staged. It makes for better viewing.
I wrote recently about Catfish which is also a recent and unique reality show.
I have a mini-obsession with the Real Housewives of Everywhere: Atlanta, New Jersey, New York, Beverly Hills, Orange County and Vancouver. The lives of these women and their friends and families are extraordinary and certainly eye opening. They constantly fall out. They create villains and heroes. And as the shows have progressed, we have seen how changes in the world economy have really affected, in particular, the Real Housewives of Orange County.
I think this genre is missing from any UK reality TV and I sent a pitch to reality TV production companies last year and am thinking about another.
The first was Bonkers in Berko and centred around a group of friends who live in and around Berkhamsted. I wanted to recommend a show which followed the lives of a group of cool, eventful forty year olds (mostly) as opposed to the twenty somethings who are the common modern reality fodder. I wanted to show that us forties aren’t all Horlicks and PJs.
No responses. Don’t they know a hit when they see it? Unfortunately a few of the would-be stars of the show, my cast, also said they weren’t as keen to appear as I was. Are they mad! It would have been a phenomenon.
More recently I thought of a new show which could be called, The Real but Displaced Boulevardiers of London. I’m pretty sure it would be a fantastic show. Don’t you? I need to find more candidates and build it into a pitch. Surely the production companies wouldn’t miss two hit shows in a row!
I’ll keep you all posted.