TV’s guilty plea­sures

Why cats, weird body parts and strange ad­dic­tions are big busi­ness for the net­works

Herald Sun - Switched On - - FRONT PAGE -

The ridicule came thick and fast when Seven an­nounced it was sched­ul­ing Cats Make You Laugh Out Loud in a gap opened up by rat­ings flop Res­tau­rant Revo­lu­tion.

“Cats? Re­ally?” sniffed “Catas­tro­phe” punned Pedes­trian. Fair­fax ar­gued the de­ploy­ment of “fe­line fun­sters” meant Seven was “wav­ing the white flag”.

The smirks quickly dis­ap­peared when the cats cleaned up in the rat­ings with more than 1.5 mil­lion view­ers na­tion­wide (917,000 across the five ma­jor cap­i­tals).

Ri­val pro­gram mak­ers de­spaired: one in­sider told Switched On they couldn’t be­lieve their months of hard work on a show they’re proud of was beaten by “a show about cats do­ing a dump in a toi­let with a laugh track un­der­neath”.

“Am I asleep?” tweeted Grant Denyer, host of ri­val, The Great Aus­tralian Spell­ing Bee. “Did mar­riage equal­ity just get blocked AND cat videos nearly got 1 mil­lion view­ers last night? F--- it, I give up!”

Com­pan­ion show Dogs That Make You LOL was due to screen last night, af­ter Switched On went to press.

“Peo­ple take this stuff way too se­ri­ously,” says Seven’s di­rec­tor of pro­gram­ming An­gus Ross, sound­ing ut­terly de­lighted. “(View­ers) want en­ter­tain­ment, they want a laugh and if it’s laugh­ing at some­thing stupid, what’s ac­tu­ally wrong with that?”

But the rat­ings fig­ures should not have come as a shock be­cause re­al­ity style guilty plea­sures — from YouTube com­pi­la­tions to se­cret ad­dic­tions and big fat gypsy wed­dings — have be­come one of the most pop­u­lar, if most maligned, gen­res on tele­vi­sion.

Dis­tinct from the glitzy and ex­pen­sive re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tions that net­works build their brands around, in­clud­ing My Kitchen Rules, The Block and MasterChef, the genre is cheap and cheer­ful, film­ing real life for en­ter­tain­ment rather than in­for­ma­tion.

While fans of so-called “trash TV” are of­ten ridiculed, it’s the go-to en­ter­tain­ment choice for plenty of highly in­tel­li­gent peo­ple. You can dip in and out of these shows with­out com­mit­ment — un­like re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tions that de­mand hours of at­ten­tion four nights a week, or binge-wor­thy dra­mas that re­quire a spread­sheet and a cal­cu­la­tor to keep tabs on the plot de­vel­op­ments.

Even Bri­tish PM David Cameron is a fan, re­veal­ing re­cently that he un­winds at the end of each day with 30 min­utes of “trash TV” be­fore fall­ing asleep on the couch.

Emma Ash­ton from the web­site Re­al­ity Rav­ings — whose back­ground is in pol­i­tics — says the ap­peal is sim­ple.

“Peo­ple have busy, stress­ful lives and a short, sharp show can help you un­wind and dis­en­gage your brain,” she says.

Some of these pro­grams find en­ter­tain­ment in weird sub­cul­tures or strange char­ac­ters (think Here Comes Honey Boo Boo or Duck Dy­nasty). Oth­ers draw in view­ers with grotesque med­i­cal prob­lems ( Em­bar­rass­ing Bod­ies), strange psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues ( Hoard­ers) or peo­ple be­hav­ing badly ( Sun, Sex and Sus­pi­cious Par­ents). Like “click­bait” on web­sites, guilty plea­sures of­ten live or die based on their ti­tles. With­out big name stars, ma­jor prizes or big bud­gets all they have to spruik is the sub­ject mat­ter — usu­ally in the most lurid and en­tic­ing way pos­si­ble.

“In­creas­ingly, where peo­ple are just flick­ing through EPGs look­ing for shows to watch, the im­por­tance of ti­tles can’t be un­der­es­ti­mated,” Ross says.

“Cats That Make you LOL is pretty sim­ple, so is The Man With The Big­gest Tes­ti­cles.

“What’s on the tin is what’s in­side.”

Ross Crow­ley, Fox­tel’s di­rec­tor of con­tent, strat­egy and pro­gram­ming, agrees.

“When you get some­thing like Posh Or­gies or When Ghosts At­tack you know it’s not Shake­speare,” he says. “Any­thing that would have pre­vi­ously made a Na­tional En­quirer or Star Mag­a­zine cover makes good TV. Un­usual things, ac­ci­dents, any­thing out of the or­di­nary or where you get a deeply per­sonal look at a sub­cul­ture. Whole chan­nels have built them­selves around it.”

In­clud­ing Fox­tel, of course. Many of the sub­scrip­tion TV ser­vice’s chan­nels spe­cialise in par­tic­u­lar gen­res of guilty plea­sures — what Crow­ley calls “Pop TV”.

A&E skews to­wards men ( Swamp Peo­ple, Pawn Stars), Lifestyle You aims for women ( Say Yes To The Dress, Dance Moms), MTV looks to younger view­ers ( Cat­fish), while Arena of­fers up more as­pi­ra­tional shows ( Real Housewives, Mil­lion Dol­lar List­ing).

On free to air, the dig­i­tal sta­tions are the genre’s nat­u­ral home. While Seven’s main chan­nel will run en­ter­tain­ing doc­u­men­taries such as Bor­der Se­cu­rity and What Re­ally Hap­pens in Bali, 7mate spe­cialises in big char­ac­ter shows aimed at blokes ( Hill­billy Hand­fishin’, Out­back Truck­ers).

But can re­al­ity shows aimed at blokes re­ally be called “guilty” plea­sures?

“I’d sug­gest there are a lot of things men watch that fit in the cat­e­gory, just they don’t feel guilty about it!” Crow­ley says.

De­spite — or per­haps be­cause — of its pop­u­lar­ity, many claim to hate the genre, tak­ing to Twit­ter to de­nounce var­i­ous shows week af­ter week.

“It comes back to it be­ing a guilty plea­sure, a se­cret in­dul­gence, and I think peo­ple say they don’t like it be­cause they want to be aligned with a per­ceived pop­u­lar voice,” Nathan Cook from Maxus says.

For his part, Ross prom­ises Cats That Make You LOL won’t be­come a sta­ple of the sched­ule.

“We’re about try­ing to build brands like My Kitchen Rules, House Rules and X Fac­tor, shows that per­form and that our sales team can sell.

“The fu­ture of TV isn’t stripped cat shows. Ev­ery­one’s jobs would be­come a lot eas­ier if that was the case but it’s (not).”






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