Is there any reality left in reality TV?
By Nikki Peters
As the viewing figures for X Factor saw a drastic drop from 11 to 8.1 million for the first show of this series, many speculated that the demand for reality TV has dried up. Maybe it is heading that way but the question on my mind whilst watching X Factor auditionee Zoe Alexander outburst on Saturday night’s show was where’s the reality gone in this particular reality show?
The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of Reality (noun) provides some clues to what we should be seeing when it comes to reality TV:
- the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them
- a thing that is actually experienced or seen, especially when this is grim or problematic
- a thing that exists in fact, having previously only existed in one’s mind
- the quality of being lifelike or resembling an original
In case you had better things to do on Saturday night, here’s a brief re-cap on how this current debate started… Zoe Alexander turned on the X Factor judges when they gave her four resounding “it’s a no from me”’s because she showed no originality and was too much like Pink. Her problem, the production team had told her to replace her choice with a Pink song. Now the bleeped out outburst definitely increased the drama but I am questioning whether it really did X Factor the good they thought the drama and extra column inches might bring? Viewers definitely switched off but the longer term impact comes from people like me saying “hang on, don’t think I am stupid enough to think this is real, give me more credit than that.”
Reality TV as we know it hit our screens in 2000 with Big Brother and the contestants were all real, sometimes boring, people. This concept endeared the British public who tuned in to watch the natural personalities develop and interact in the house. This honest approach to reality TV continued through Pop Idol, X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and many more.
There was, however, a turning point for reality TV when producers started making changes to the format. There are pre-audition auditions for contestants to weed out the “uninteresting” and only broadcast the good, the bad and the ugly to viewers. Some contestants were followed to their homes by camera crews piecing together their personal stories to be used at later stages in the competition. Finally there is the division of air time for contestants. When you vote to save contestants how will someone you have seen a 30 second clip of fare against their rival whose family you feel you know inside out?
The Truman Show leaps to mind at this point. Where reality was created for Jim Carrey’s character and edited so he experienced what television companies believed he should. I can’t help but feel like this when watching some reality TV and I’m not convinced that fiction is more interesting than fact. I think the reality was what made us tune in and now that has gone, we have switched off, or better still, rented a film – remember that…?
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