The slow (and very painful) death of reality TV

Channel 4 today announced that it’s to replace Big Brother with a new programme centred around the lives of 10 urban types from Notting Hill. After over a decade of reality television, it’s come full circle and is now going to start looking inward on some of the people that probably live a few doors down from the people that have commissioned the tawdry public humiliations of the attention seeking few willing to be incarcerated in Big Brother’s TV dungeons in the first place.

Whether it be locked in a house in North London scratching your nether-regions or flapping about an airport, port, council office, cruise ship, pest control outfit, police car, garden centre or auction house where no good molehill can’t become a drama filled mountain. It’s been the same dull formula filling the gaps between the programmes people really want to watch for a few more years than most would care to think about. With the death of Big Brother, many of us happily assumed it’d be time for the formula to move on – clearly though, it’s not going to be the case.

The problem with the idea of following around 10 urban types from Notting Hill is that it’s already been done – in fiction and in fact – and we all know these are not going to be normal people, as normal people simply don’t put up with the intrusion of a television camera thrust into their life.

I’m expecting there to be a sprinkling of sloane-rangers, a trustafarian and perhaps a sprinkling of “real people” (and by that I mean people slightly poorer than the other people in the show – probably from above the Westway – as a commissioning friend of mine would say) and almost certainly, god forbid, a few media types. Regardless of their backgrounds however, there’s one thing that’s going to draw them all together; the undeniable knowledge that reality TV, rather than being exactly that, is nothing more than a launch pad to a career in the media.

The jig is up, it’s been up for a long time, it’s not reality, it’s an audition. The more extreme the shows have become, the more extreme the candidates they’ve attracted, and surely that can only lead to one conclusion – and that’s not better TV, it’s not even TV that attracts high ratings.

Over the last decade the audience share for ‘reality’ programming has soared, peaked and from a few years ago been in stuck in a steady nose-dive. The format is dying, especially when it’s compared against the talent show format, the natural home of the wide-eyed, attention seeking and the celebrity. Why humiliate yourself getting locked in a box when you can launch or relaunch your career learning to sing or dance, or indeed to become a novelty act because of your complete inability to do either, as a celebrity or a fame-hungry-member-of-the-public?

While no-one can question the world-beating dominance (presently) of British TV formats, that dominance won’t last forever – it’s time for new ideas, and new directions, and harking back to the same old, same old is only going to damage the reputation of the UK’s thriving media sector – so excuse me while I stifle my yawns, but surely it’s time to admit that we’ve all had enough of reality TV.


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