Posts tagged ‘reality TV’


Forced to take prime-time nostalgia trips

20.07.2018


‘There’s an old Polish proverb …’ I believe it’s ‘Reality television can’t stop the motorways in Warsaw from getting icy.’

I’ve always known what sort of telly I liked, and often that was at odds with what broadcasters put on. In the 1970s, my tastes weren’t too dissimilar from the general public’s, but as the years went on, they diverged from what New Zealand programmers believed we should watch.
   Shows I liked would prematurely disappear (Dempsey & Makepeace), only to return very late at night a decade later. Some only ever appeared late at night (Hustle), then vanish (in New Zealand, seasons 5 to 8 have never appeared on a terrestrial channel, and they have also never been released on DVD).
   We had a British expat visitor on Wednesday. He arrived here in 2008, and had no idea that TV1 had once been the home of British programming, and TV2 was where the Hollywood stuff went.
   By the late 2000s and early 2010s, I was watching either DVDs or finding a way to get to BBC Iplayer et al, because less and less of what was on offer had any appeal. We had boxed sets of Mission: Impossible, The Persuaders, and others.
   When the country switched to Freeview, I couldn’t be bothered getting a decoder. We were fine with online. Eventually, I did buy a TV set with Freeview, but only because the previous one conked out.
   On Thursday night, it became very apparent just how bad television had become here.
   Every English-language and Te Reo Māori terrestrial channel had unscripted drama, i.e. “reality” shows, or the occasional panel show or real-life event, other than Prime, showing the MacGyver remake.
   Who in the 1980s would have predicted that MacGyver would be the only scripted series on air during prime-time here between 7.30 and 8.30 p.m.?
   I realize the economics of television have changed, and there’s no such thing as a TVNZ drama department any more.
   Shows which might have had the whole country watching would be lucky to pull in a quarter of the audience today.
   But it is a sad reflection that the televised equivalent of the weekly gossip rag is what rates. The effort needed to produce quality drama is expensive, and not enough of us support it.
   I also imagine scripted Hollywood shows are cheaper than British ones, hence what we see on our screens is American—and why some kids these days now speak with American accents. Yet to some New Zealanders, Chinese-language signs on Auckland high streets are a bigger threat to the local culture. Really?
   In this household, we vote with our attention spans—and over the last month that has meant DVDs of Banacek and, in true 50 shades of Grade fashion, The Protectors. Sometimes, you feel it’s 1972 in this house—but at least the telly was better then.

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It’s about content, especially when reality is more appealing than reality TV

10.04.2011

The Apprentice logo
It’s shows like The Apprentice that have kept me away from watching TV.

I was surprised to learn, in conversation last week, that TV viewership is up, while print is down.
   Shows you can’t base too much of what the general public does on your own experience.
   I estimate my magazine and book consumption is roughly where it was for the last half-decade, but I watch around seven hours of broadcast television (not online stuff) per month at the top end.
   The reason I have a television set is to show DVDs, and little more. If I had a more advanced unit, I might consider sticking USB sticks containing short films from friends into it, but it’s little more than a display unit for other media.
   It surprises me, because I would say I watched a lot of telly in the 1970s and 1980s.
   As to newspapers, the last time I bought or subscribed to one was 1993.
   My attention does seem to be on the computer, and that’s been growing since the 1990s.
   Part of it came from the business—getting news from Reuter Textline, for instance—but when a lot of this stuff became mainstream and everyone could get it, I joined in.
   I don’t think it’s down to the fact that a lot of it is free—though having said that I do not miss the Murdoch Press’s paywalled (sic) publications one iota—but the fact that everything can be tailored to my tastes. As much as I rip into Google, I have always said Google News was a fine product that allows me to do just that. (I use the UK one, ever since the US one turned into something unusable.)
   What it boils down to is the long shift from top–down media to participatory media, something that’s not new, by any means.
   At the core, it’s all driven by content.
   My dissatisfaction with, say, the newspapers, was due to the small amount of international coverage we were getting in the early 1990s. The Dominion had cut its coverage down to less than a page a day. The last time I saw a copy of The Dominion Post was at the airport on a flight—I collected it from the gate—and spent more time on the crosswords than I did on the world news. It’s not as bad as a single page, but it could be better. (Don’t get me started on the wasted opportunity of not reducing the page size with its last redesign, especially as I only seem to read it on the plane.)
   And telly is much the same. I simply found shows of yesteryear more appealing—but it’s not as though shows of a similar ilk aren’t being made. They just aren’t shown by the terrestrial channels.
   With my apologies to those friends who like these shows, I just cannot find competitive cookery shows, the various Idols or Simon Cowell’s X Factors terribly interesting. Even when I appeared on TV regularly here, I didn’t watch the show. I have not watched a single episode of Survivor, and if the Donald gets his way and The Apprentice is set from the Oval Office, I still wouldn’t find it terribly interesting.
   I was one of those idiots who stayed up to watch Hustle or Daybreak, and these days, about the only things I do watch are Top Gear and Doctor Who. (Lucky for Prime.)
   Shows cut from everyday experiences bore me, especially this genre called ‘reality TV’, especially when there’s something more interesting. It’s called ‘reality’.
   In a city like Wellington, there’s always something to do, and everything’s so close by, it wouldn’t surprise me if that particular genre of television was more dead here than in some other cities. And, if you really wanted to emulate television, you can even see roughly the same people each week.
   While there is some truth in saying that a lot of content has become a commodity—check out some of the sites that Google News has let in occasionally—the good stuff, content that is differentiated and smart, is still prized. (Strangely, that’s the Murdoch Press argument for its paywall—but I guess we all have different ideas over the definition of prized.)
   So upping my television watching or even newspaper-reading is dead easy. Customized printing is already here, or will it be down to tablet apps? Either way, that’s one way to deliver a decent newspaper experience that I might subscribe to.
   However, I can’t see television exactly catering for my whims in the near future, not while more people watched Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Masterchef for Sweatshop Kids—or whatever the heck that has diversified to—than Life on Mars (the original) down here. Bringing up the percentage of drama to where it once was would work for me and the tiny minority that I represent, and commercially, it looks like we aren’t worth it.
   Anyway, I am hooked on this ‘reality’ at the moment, and it’s in part thanks to reality TV breaking me out of my old habits. I didn’t think I’d be grateful for reality TV, but, there you go, I am: it got me away from the box.

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Posted in business, culture, interests, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, TV, UK, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Reality TV is not everything non-fiction

01.01.2011

I found it very odd that Antiques Roadshow and Mythbusters were nominated for the reality TV category at the Emmy Awards. Based on the vocabulary I grew up with, these are not ‘reality TV’.
   I doubt many of us over a certain age would think of The Gong Show or New Zealand’s Top Town as reality TV. Or Britain’s Got Talent. By this token, is Top Gear a reality show? It is, after all, filmed in the real world.
   I would, however, classify the usual Survivor or The Apprentice as reality TV: shows that have very little reality to them thanks to editing and sensationalism. There should be as little scripting as possible.
   The term reality TV might stem from the fact that if you believe them, you need to get a reality check. That’s probably the easiest way to distinguish one.
   So what is the difference between what I call a reality show—to date the only one I have followed was the first season of That’ll Teach ’Em—and the rest that are based on fact?
   The term was originally given to shows that purported to show reality, as based around voyeurism. Big Brother is the archetype: the idea that you could see everything with as little editing as possible, covering a long period of time. While of course there was editing, you were invited to get a “slice of life” from observation—a bit like an aquarium but humans replacing goldfish.
   The genre extended to those that relied on heavy editing for dramatic effect. Survivor and The Apprentice are perhaps the next best known. There’s a week’s worth of footage to condense into an hour, so there’s a lot of fodder that editors can cut to create heroes and villains and play on our dramatic expectations. The Amazing Race qualifies if we use this definition.
   Where, pray tell, is there “reality” in Britain’s Got Talent and its licensed ilk? We see a performance and some background. If we argue that the background deems it a reality show, then the nightly news must qualify—it, too, provides background to a story. As does 60 Minutes. Or the Miss France telecast on TF1.
   Antiques Roadshow hardly gives us a slice of life greater than a documentary. Where is the long period of time in which we follow Jamie, Adam, Grant, Kari and Tory on Mythbusters? Should we now revise our thinking to include the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World as a reality show, as it is of a similar genre?
   For those of us who dislike the reality genre—because they take up precious time where we snobs can see some decent dramatic programming—the claiming of regular documentary and talent shows as reality TV is surely a sign that the genre has passed its heyday. If The Apprentice in the US continues its downward spiral ratings-wise, one of the biggest shows in that genre will be history, consigned to being something that was “so 2000s”.

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Posted in culture, France, interests, media, New Zealand, TV, UK, USA | 7 Comments »