Reality TV. The most inappropriately named genre in broadcasting. What kind of reality spawns such demons?
Look, I have watched reality TV; I watched the first series of Big Brother, I watched X Factor and Dancing on Ice for a couple of years, and I have a guilty pleasure in I’m A Celebrity.
But I am seriously at a loss to understand how this visual weirdness is still so popular.
Reality TV recently hit an all-time low, for me, with that bizarre diving show “Splash”. It was not something I ever intended to watch, but was reluctantly subjected to it for about half an hour on one of its airings. My initial reaction was one of open-mouthed fascination. For those who haven’t watched it, the premise seemed to consist of the following: each week a handful of minor celebrities (some of whom are only famous for being on OTHER shows of this ilk, but that’s a conversation for another day) who can’t swim/dive well/at all are,over a period of weeks, trained to do some Olympic-style high-diving. Tom Daley is involved (although, I suspect not as regularly as it is implied) and so is Vernon Kaye, which is a reason in itself not to watch the show.
Anyway, on the night, we are subject to a plethora of these celebrities dressed in sparkly/garish bathers, skimpy to differing degrees based on hotness of body or humour of spectacle, who take it in turns to have a dive. But it’s not that simple. We have to have some montages of Tom Daley explaining something or other, repeated throughout the show. We have to have an introduction to a panel of “experts”, only one of whom is really an expert, and we have to have several minutes detailing each celebrity’s individual story. Then, we get a dive. Not always a good one. Then we get the panel rabbiting on about nothing, and then they show some numbers. The numbers are, by and large, irrelevant because although they are classed as scores, the real scores are determined by nothing more than a phone vote of popularity. Then we get an ad break. Then it all rolls out again, and lasts from anywhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours.
What. The. Heck?
This is prime time Saturday night TV. The concept is probably sound, and hot on the heels of the 2012 Olympics, could have been executed with a real nod to sport, and some dignity, but clearly that’s not what people want (judging by the odd popularity of the show.) And my question is, why? Why do people need the glitz and the glossiness and the banality of hearing some random not-quite-famous-person’s opinion on a sport they know nothing about, referring to another not-quite-famous-person’s attempt at said sport? Why do we need the endless repeated shots of what we’ve JUST SEEN? Why do we need 10 minutes of build up to a 20 second shot of action, followed by 10 minutes breakdown of it? Why can’t we just have shows with content, and not fluff and filler?
Obviously advertising and revenue is the ultimate reason. But the popularity of this style must have been brought about by years of the networks trying to improve the brand, to such a level now where the hour-long fillers surrounding the content of these shows, is generic and absolute.
And because they started it, they have to keep adding to it. If you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards.
Take Dancing on Ice. In the first year, I thoroughly enjoyed it; the incredible Torvill and Dean fronting and performing in the show, Robin Cousins, Karen Barber and Nicky Slater all offering their opinions on celebrities I had (mainly) heard of, and veteran professional Philip Schofield presenting. The celebrities took weeks of training to learn how to ice skate and then dance. It was marked out of 6, like the Winter Olympic scores, and the errors and flaws and technical hardships were evident for all to see. They worked their butts off, basically, and ended up with a real skill. And it’s nice to watch a bit of ice skating anyway.
It was really successful and really well watched. And then they gradually, over the years, started messing about with the format. And what we now get is this:
Too many celebrities to fit into one week,
People on the judging panel who are “experts” on performance skills (because they were on a west end stage in the chorus a couple of times, or sang backing in a girl band),
Limited conversation with Torvill and Dean,
Endless repeat showings of the routines that we have already seen,
Montages before each routine showing some dire accident during the week leading up to the show, with some “will-they/won’t-they” music playing while it is debated whether or not they will be physically able to even compete (they always are) or a move which has caused them to vomit/cry/be unable to sleep/all of the above (which they always execute perfectly),
Unimaginative and generally unfounded criticism from the panel to create controversy, usually with a disagreement thrown in,
Individual judge’s scores which are so at odds with one another it is impossible to tell if a) they are marking the same thing or b) if it was good or poor,
Irrelevant judge’s scores, because the phone vote is merely a popularity vote and alters the leaderboard on a weekly basis,
Celebrities telling you they are enjoying themselves and did their best while Christine Bleakley either smiles in empathy or frowns in sympathy,
and then several repeats of the whole thing until the end of the show.
Which we then have to suffer all over again half an hour later when the phone votes are counted.
But it’s not just the result we get in the result show. Oh no.
We get some MORE repeats of the routines.
A vox-pop with each skating couple telling us exactly what they told us in the first show, but backstage.
We get a performance from some completely unrelated pop band, occasionally with a skate routine.
We get Christine Bleakley asking the judges the same questions that she asked them in the first show. Then we get the adverts.
Then we get a long drawn-out “Schofield-Pause” list of who has got through and is “safe” for another week, and who is in the dreaded bottom two.
Then the bottom two – the ones no one voted for – sodding well skate again.
Then the judges decide who they are saving.
Blow me, I’m bored just thinking about it. And for what? The honour of winning a show that everyone forgets about when The Voice is back in town.
I’ve found a solution, though. Thanks to the technology of my sky+ box, I record the spectacle (despite my negativity, I really do like the shiny suits and the dancing) and then I fast forward all of the crap. I fast forward Schofe and Bleakers, anything to do with the judges, anything that is clearly pre-recorded or repeated, and all the adverts. And then I watch the skating. As I’m fast-forwarding, I note the scores and the leaderboard, so I have an idea of how they are doing, and then I skip to the end of the result show. Sometimes I watch the “skate-off”, sometimes I don’t. Either way, I can watch 2 and a half hours of Dancing on Ice in less than 24 minutes.
And I can spend the saved time writing about it. Everybody wins.
So, until Big Brother actually starts referring to Orwell’s dystopia, and incorporates totalitarian ideology associated within modern society and politics, and until the X Factor really does project a je ne sais quoi that sets it apart from everything else with an indefinable quality that defies description, and until Strictly Come Dancing drops the ridiculous word “Strictly” from its title and acknowledges that it doesn’t friggin’ mean anything I will continue to enjoy my DVD collection on a weekend night.
And I will still watch I’m a Celebrity, because I really like Ant and Dec.