WHEN DAVINA McCall waved farewell to Big Brother on Channel 4 last summer after viewing figures had been waning, it looked like the end of an era for reality TV. But a year on, Channel 5 is getting ready to bring Big Brother back this summer, and other shows are reinventing the reality genre.
So we decided to take the temperature of reality TV to see where it’s heading, and ask – will you keep watching?
Celebrity Reality – The celebrity reality show reached a new low in 2010 when, during Channel 4’s Coach Trip, viewers were treated to the sight of Chris Tarrant’s ex-wife sharing a bath full of beer with a Chuckle Brother. But while it may be tacky, perhaps these shows are giving us what we crave: wannabes making fools of themselves.
Channel 5 reckons there’s still a huge appetite for semi-famous people being humiliated, so it’s relaunching Big Brother with a celebrity edition. The channel has also lined up Gavin Henson for a UK version of The Bachelor, and ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! is still an annual ratings-grabbing fixture. So celebs are here to stay.
Soapy Reality – 2010 was the year UK reality TV reinvented itself with The Only Way Is Essex (or TOWIE as it’s known to fans) featuring beautiful (but real) people from Chigwell in deliberately staged situations. It gave the reality genre a dramatic, soap-opera-style twist, and viewers flocked to ITV2 to keep up with their love lives. Made In Chelsea took a similar approach for wealthy twenty-somethings with funny names such as Caggie and Binky, and the runaway success of these shows suggests TV producers will repeat the formula.
If you’re a fan of those, you should watch The Hills, the reality series about glamorous young women in LA which inspired the UK shows and which is bold enough to hint that things are being staged. MTV’s US hit Jersey Shore inspired the British show Geordie Shore, although a local Newcastle MP has condemned the cast’s antics as “bordering on pornographic”, and pledged to raise it in parliament.
Series 1-6 of The Hills is available On Demand from 1 July
Wealthy and Weird – For a while, TV producers seemed to think anyone whose lives were a bit different would make for compulsive viewing. Blame The Osbournes: yes, Ozzy was a celebrity of sorts, but it was really all about their bizarre family life.
Keeping Up With The Kardashians is more of the same, as we get to follow the lifestyle of these shameless, rich party girls. But pointing a camera at a curious bunch of people doesn’t always work. Channel 4’s Seven Days followed trendy types in Notting Hill last year and offered viewers the chance to influence what they did next. Unfortunately, they chose to switch off instead.
Find out when to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians on Freeview
Channel 5 reckons there’s still a huge appetite for semi-famous people being humiliated
Workplace Reality – What is the British obsession with work? This reality TV sub-genre is really just a new version of the documentary, but the fly-on-the-wall cameras give the impression you’re peering in on people’s lives. Channel 5 is spicing it up this summer with Candy Bar Girls, a new series revealing the lives and loves of staff at Soho’s Candy Bar, a lesbian nightclub.
If you prefer a more humdrum version of reality, you can follow the lives of B&B owners (Four In A Bed), restaurateurs (The Restaurant Inspector) and hoteliers (The Hotel Inspector) as they reveal their daily routines and face ritual humiliation.
Find out when to watch Candy Bar Girls on Freeview
Uplifting Reality – But it’s not all about making people look stupid, so here’s an honourable mention for the reality-style shows that make you feel good about life. Jamie’s Dream School, One Born Every Minute and Katie: My Beautiful Friends have all celebrated the lives of real people and the challenges they face.
So it’s fair to say that in 2011, reality TV still has plenty to offer. It might sometimes be cruel, and it may even be tawdry, but there is still the potential for some classic TV.
Find out how to watch Katie: My Beautiful Friends On Demand
Have you given up on Big Brother? Is The Only Way Is Essex now leading the way for reality TV? Or do the American reality shows do it better? Let us know by leaving a comment. And for sport, film and TV chit-chat, follow @tvfrombt on Twitter/tvfrombt