If you got them in a room, the makers of “engineered” reality shows like The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE) would tell you that real life is dull, and all they do is add a little… theatrical structure. Whether or not you approve of such tampering is irrelevant, because people are watching. Which is odd really. You wouldn’t watch a drama--or heaven forbid a sitcom--where the actors were left to make up their own words. So why would scripted reality be any more appealing? It’s an oxymoron, pitched at and starring actual morons. And it’s one that might be extending in the UK: ITV2 are reportedly looking to expand TOWIE’s run from 12 to 48 weeks of the year. Yes, that’s the same amount of air time as a soap!
We’ve got the Americans to blame for all of this; the idea of scripted-reality started in California. In 2006, MTV scheduled a show that would transform--or significantly tweak--the reality television landscape. The Hills allowed us to gawp at pretty young LA women, most famously Teen Vogue intern Lauren Conrad. It ran for six seasons (until 2010) but it was hard to determine the level of orchestration. Although scripts weren’t written, filming days were scheduled, meetings set up and new BFFs drafted in. As it turned out, no one cared much that it wasn’t bona fide reality. A contrived confessional or spat between beautiful women is as alluring as the real thing.
Next came Jersey Shore, a show about Italian Americans drinking and sexing heavily in a house near the beach in New Jersey. It was more set up than most arranged marriages. But again, no one cared: it’s MTV’s all-time most-watched show, with eight million tuning in every week. No wonder MTV in the UK wanted a piece of the action! Their hypnotically terrifying version, Geordie Shore, became the most watched show on the channel when it aired last year. So much so, another version called Mersey Shore is also being planned.
The format just can’t be contained. Our networks are eager to pump out as much scripted-reality as possible; they aren’t about to let go of their cheap, smash hits. Take E4 as another example; they recently followed trend with Made in Chelsea (posh kids sloaning it up) and have since announced that a Liverpudlian series called Desperate Scousewives is on its way too.
The potential for more The Only Was is Essex is just terrifying though. We admit, we can see the appeal: it’s electrifying, brainless trash, in which men and women with baked on tans flirt, scream and vajazzle their way through scripted situations. But the idea of the stars’ orange skin radiating our screens for 48 weeks of the year? That’s all kinds of wrong. Especially as ITV are intending to have us pay for the online viewing privilege from January. The producers are bound to run out of scenes in which to plant their stars. Besides, the cast have (almost) all dated each other already--and we’re only two seasons in. The only way to keep it fresh would be to continually add new, fake faces, and this merry-go-round of stereotypes will get stale. Quickly.
Are you a fan of scripted-reality shows? Would you be tempted to watch that much The Only Way is Essex?