No doubt, television and internet makes a good combination as a medium for a voyeuristic experience, a dive into the
lives of people we don't know. If that's not enough, the radios pick up the slack talking about it during our drives
to work. The papers delve into the lives of contestants outside the scope of the cameras. We're flooded with more
information about these people than we can possibly absorb, yet we want more; the success of the next generation of
reality show is almost guaranteed the moment the cameras switch on.
The modern reality show didn't suddenly appear from the collective mind of a media think tank. Every aspect of it has
been done before, at least in some fashion.
Travel, home renovation, gardening, sporting, cooking, court, police, fire, ambulance - shows about all manner of
things have featured average people in their average lives for many years. And it not need be truly left to reality.
Tim Allen's Home Improvement was a sitcom where two of the main
characters starred on a renovation show called "Tool Time".
the Gameshow. These existed well before the days of television itself, in the form of the radio quiz show. Just about
everyone has seen shows like Wheel of Fortune, Jeapordy, Millionare, the Weakest Link, and so on. There are even films about quiz shows.
the Talkshow. Donahue, Oprah, Ricki, Jerry. Various approaches to the same idea; Put some people we don't know on
television and make them talk about stuff.
the Webcam. Ok so if the television experience isn't enough for you (and how could it be with 8 hours of work
interrupting your artificial dose of reality), the webcam has succeeded as a staple of the tech-savvy (or
exhibitionist!). The long-running JenniCam was probably the most famous, but recently closed.
the House. Big Brother is the first of the modern reality shows that springs to mind, yet it is nothing new. An
Australian breakfast radio show hosted by Andrew Denton at one point ran a reality show of its own, before the advent
of Big Brother and others of its ilk. The "House of Hell" involved putting a bunch of people with very different
personalities and lifestyles into a small house and making them perform awful tasks and try and stick it out for three
months to win a sizeable (though not compared with current Reality standards) deposit on a home of their own.
Featuring regular updates on its host radio station, Triple M, it also made use
of webcams feeding the station's web site.
You can even take bits of pieces of the above and come up with great shows such as the Australian Race around the world, where contestants travelled country after
country of their choosing, filming and producing mini-documentaries of their progress during each leg of their journey.
John Safran's works during this show remain among the most entertaining things I have seen on television in the last
decade. Yet the show somehow lacked the 'je ne sais quoi' that would give it full-blooded Reality status.
Even older is the long-running Sylvania Waters, which documented
the lives of a working class Australian family. Located in a southern suburb of Sydney, they were brought into the
public eye in a way alien to the country at that time. Marketed as a real-life soap opera it enjoyed moderate success
an obtained a certain infamy in the minds of the public. Long gone now but not forgotten, they made the news in 2003
as they prepared to move out of their well known abode seen on so many television sets there and abroad.
At what point is enough, enough? Reality television may fade away with an undignified death as season after season of
half-baked ideas hatch into the bastard children of media executives unworthy of their mantle. Or one day someone may
wake up with the next idea, surely to be copied immediately by all and sundry, leaving those who don't follow coughing
up the dust churned up by the wheels of progress.
I'll admit that I watched much of the first Australian series of Big
Brother. I had a laugh as partners bickered their way across four of the five continents in The Amazing Race. I even watched bits and pieces of most series of Survivor. Have I had enough? You bet.
Struggling, it seems, to keep a hold on what i hope is the twilight of the Reality boom, producers grab at anything
that may milk another season from the same tired idea. Big Brother put celebrities in the house. Survivor is now
running its all-star series, contesting only the most infamous players from previous seasons against each other. Not
content to run merely a nation-by-nation campaign, Idol comes up with a world special where winners of regional Idol
shows represent their country in a one-off World Idol.
Paris Hilton recently has found herself living on a farm.
Miscellaneous "celebrities" are put on show titled "I'm a Celebrity, Get
Me Out of Here!".
A dozen shows involve groups of people pulling down, erecting, or otherwise fabricating houses.
A group of gay guys metro-sexualise straight men.
Of course it doesn't end there. We have them get married, be carved up in cosmetic surgery, scare the crap out of
them, or humiliate them beyond belief.
Then there are the extremes that Reality can't quite tread.
And now, we've given them weapons.
Famous, by Ben Elton, is a novel about the investigation into a murder on a fictitious reality television show that
somehow didn't make it onto the recording equipment. The film Series
7 steps it up to the next level, working on the premise of a reality television show where the aim is to kill off
the other contestants. This, of course, isn't an entirely new idea to those of us who have seen The Running Man (starring Arnie).
"We've left them on an island, and seen if they could last. We've locked them in a house, and watched what they would
do. And now, we've given them weapons." -- Series 7
In the film The Truman Show, the central character discovers that he
is actually the star of a reality television show. Adopted shortly after birth by a corporation, he is raised by
actors and knows nothing of his role in a fictitious world revolving around himself. The film ends with Truman,
stripped of identity, leaving the Reality set to encounter reality for the first time.
So we've seen where it came from, where it is, and where it only dreams it can be.
Why do we care?
Many magazines (Woman's Weekly, Woman's Day, Ralph, FHM, to name a few) thrive on the peeping-tom in us all. The
current batch of Hollywood celebrities make the news if they wander down their driveway unshaved to pick up the morning
newspaper, or have a couple of drinks too many at a party. Years after her death, Diana "Lady Di" Spencer still
somehow regularly makes the news. Lady Di is dead. It's tragic, it's over, move on. Yet time and again we hear about
it - and somebody must be listening, the magazines keep coming out so they must be selling. But why?
The common thread that I find between these shows is celebrity for the sake of celebrity. Typically people become
famous for doing something. Sports stars, movie stars, politicians, the Pope. These are all people who are famous for
doing something well enough that it has found the world stage. Is this all it is?
Record labels have long been accused of manufacturing bands and milking the profits for as long as they are able,
before dumping the "artists" and moving on to the next batch of fresh-faced recruits. With shows like the various Idol
incarnations succeeding as they are, it isn't hard to believe that a strong media presence is enough to build success,
at least in the short term.
We are in an era where political battles are won or lost by press coverage, and often not the merits of ideals or
strength of character. The tabloid attention of celebrity icons, that hollywood types often profess to dislike, feeds
the public's hunger for more of the same. Jim Hacker, the PM in the British comedy Yes, Prime Minister, in one episode makes a comment that the worst news
to read about himself in the morning paper is no news at all. A fictitious show, yet a telling statement none the
And from here.
At what point does fame diminish in importance to something else? Or at least when does the novelty of Reality wear
off? To me these seem to be the questions that must be answered before we can move on from reality television to The