How low can it go?

Re­al­ity shows may be set­ting new stan­dards in of­fen­sive be­hav­iour but they’re here to stay, writes Dar­ren Devlyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

RE­AL­ITY TV — it’s no longer a ques­tion of its sur­vival, but how low it can pos­si­bly go. There’s com­mu­nity out­rage over the ap­palling an­tics (pic­tured right) of con­tes­tants on the Aus­tralian edi­tion of Ladette to Lady, in which the girls are seen binge-drink­ing, pro­jec­tile-vom­it­ing, strip­ping and re­liev­ing them­selves in pub­lic.

Then there’s Bri­tish se­ries Boys and Girls, caus­ing up­roar be­cause it sends chil­dren as young as eight into a Big Brother-style house to fend for them­selves.

Vi­o­lence has erupted be­tween the boys, in­clud­ing one who pointed a knife at an­other.

You won’t hear any bleat­ing about the hor­rors of re­al­ity TV from Peter Bazal­gette, who was the Lon­don-based chief creative of­fi­cer of Big Brother’s pro­duc­tion com­pany, En­de­mol.

Bazal­gette has an es­ti­mated $20 mil­lion in the bank and is re­garded as one of the world’s big­gest play­ers in the re­al­ity genre.

His great-grand­fa­ther was the civil en­gi­neer re­spon­si­ble for build­ing Lon­don’s sewer sys­tems and rid­ding the city of the ‘‘Great Stink’’ of 1858. His crit­ics say Bazal­gette has helped re­verse the flow.

In his book Bil­lion Dol­lar Game, Bazal­gette warned re­al­ity TV’s op­po­nents: ‘‘The genre is here to stay.

‘‘The bad for­mats — too tacky or de­riv­a­tive — fail. The good ones com­mand valu­able audiences and con­tinue to do so.

‘‘I like to en­ter­tain and to pro­voke. I’m a fish­wife at heart.’’

Big Brother might have dis­ap­peared from Aus­tralian screens, but re­al­ity TV will thrive while it rates with view­ers and re­mains com­par­a­tively cheap to pro­duce.

Drama pro­duc­tion comes in at be­tween $450,000 and $1 mil­lion per hour. Re­al­ity shows carry far less risk for net­works be­cause they can be churned out at a frac­tion of the cost.

Crit­ics say re­al­ity TV is of­fen­sive, su­per­fi­cial and makes celebri­ties out of peo­ple who rose from the shal­low end of the gene pool.

It’s also con­stantly ac­cused of putting its con­tes­tants through rit­ual hu­mil­i­a­tion, then dump­ing them in an emo­tion­ally scarred state to get on with their lives.

Box­ing show The Con­tender, de­signed to find a cham­pion fighter, was rocked when, af­ter be­ing elim­i­nated, one of the con­tes­tants, Na­jai ‘‘Nitro’’ Turpin, 23, com­mit­ted sui­cide.

The show’s pro­ducer, Mark Bur­nett, said: ‘‘Turpin’s life was com­pli­cated and elim­i­na­tion from the re­al­ity show played no part in his death.’’

The Swedish re­al­ity show, Ex­pe­di­tion: Robin­son was un­der the spot­light when it was al­leged a con­tes­tant ended his life af­ter be­ing voted off the show.

Then there was the death of a 17-year-old con­tes­tant from re­al­ity show The Colony. The girl was found dead in woods near her home in York­shire.

The show’s pro­ducer ex­pressed deep sor­row over the death but was riled by spec­u­la­tion the show could have played some part in the tragedy.

‘‘Her fam­ily does not feel the loss had any­thing to do with the pro­duc­tion,’’ the pro­ducer said. ‘‘She was a teenager who had prob­lems. To con­nect this (death) to the show is, I think, quite puerile.’’

Aus­tralia’s Next Top Model was panned re­sound­ingly when judge Char­lotte Daw­son de­scribed a pair of size-10 teenage mod­els wear­ing biki­nis as ‘‘more jelly botty than Bot­ti­celli’’.

Mel­bourne psy­chol­o­gist Dr Janet Hall wor­ries about the im­pact of put­downs on re­al­ity-show con­tes­tants and is deeply con­cerned about how con­tes­tants cope with evic­tion.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing dis­missed and im­me­di­ately sent home from a show, Hall says, has the po­ten­tial to leave con­tes­tants feel­ing ‘‘de­pressed, used and in­val­i­dated’’.

She says it’s ir­re­spon­si­ble for shows such as Ladette to Lady to use binge-drink­ing, of­fen­sive and anti- so­cial be­hav­iour for viewer en­ter­tain­ment.

‘‘It’s an in­sult to the pub­lic that we are pre­sented with this muck and a worry to those of us with sen­si­bil­i­ties,’’ Hall adds.

‘‘Next thing we’ll be back to knit­ting women watch­ing at the guil­lo­tine.’’

KAREN Dewey, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the Aussie Ladette to Lady, is staunch in her de­fence of the show.

‘‘They (UK pro­duc­ers who worked on the show) called and said our girls were out­ra­geously bad, out of con­trol and hard to han­dle,’’ Dewey says of the ladettes’ be­hav­iour in the early stages of pro­duc­tion.

‘‘It (show) was all part of try­ing to get some struc­ture into th­ese girls’ lives. You get very in­volved with th­ese girls (as a pro­ducer) and are so fond of them. Some of th­ese girls have tried so hard — girls who have had no op­por­tu­ni­ties in life what­so­ever. They rocked up to au­di­tions and said, ‘please give me a chance, I want some struc­ture in life, I’ve never had a mother or fe­male in­flu­ence in life’.’’

How does Dewey feel about crit­i­cism that the show serves no use­ful pur­pose to con­tes­tants be­cause the evic­tion process sim­ply spits those out who strug­gle to con­form.

‘‘We take our duty of care with th­ese girls very se­ri­ously,’’ Dewey says.

‘‘To have this kind of re­al­ity show ex­pe­ri­ence on the other side of the world (the ladettes were sent to Eg­gle­stone fin­ish­ing school north of Lon­don) . . . some of the girls make re­mark­able changes in their lives.

‘‘They are try­ing to change and we want to sup­port them in keep­ing on that track.

‘‘The ev­i­dence is there to prove that (the show can play a part in help­ing girls im­prove their lives).’’

Con­tes­tant Nicole Mitchell, 20, had been work­ing as a strip­per when she au­di­tioned for the show. She re­veals she needed a ‘‘10-drink min­i­mum’’ be­fore she could strip and the show fea­tures footage of her at ‘‘work’’, push­ing her breasts into the face of a club pa­tron.

When it came to film­ing the show, the trou­ble started for Mitchell and the seven other ladettes be­fore they’d even ar­rived in the UK.

It was re­ported they be­haved like crass vul­gar­i­ans dur­ing their flight from Dubai to New­cas­tle, Eng­land.

Mitchell, how­ever, says there was no en­cour­age­ment from pro­duc­ers to be­have badly. Mess­ing up, she says, came nat­u­rally.

‘‘It was all real (not man­u­fac­tured for the show),’’ says Mitchell, who says Ladette to Lady has prompted her to ditch strip­ping to en­rol in a hor­ti­cul­ture course.

‘‘It (show) opened my eyes to what life of­fers . . . every­one is so proud and happy with the way I came back.

‘‘I al­ways thought what I was do­ing in the past wasn’t right to fit into nor­mal so­ci­ety.

‘‘I couldn’t pic­ture my­self go­ing back to my old job.

‘‘When I grew up I didn’t have it (role mod­els). I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced it (peo­ple try­ing to help her) be­fore in my life.

‘‘I grew up in foster care. I was moved around a lot. They (show’s in­struc­tors Rose­mary Shrager and Gill Harbord) were amaz­ing.’’

re­al­ity-TV guru Peter Bazal­gette. Mel­bourne clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Janet Hall.

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