Real­ity TV is rel­e­vant

This year’s fi­nal episode of Our Per­fect Wed­ding airs tonight, Con­nect TV boss re­flects on the events of Sun­day, Novem­ber 29

CityPress - - Voices - Baset­sana Ku­malo voices@city­press.co.za

As we go on air tonight with the fi­nal episode for the year of Our Per­fect Wed­ding, it seems fit­ting to re­flect on the con­tent and con­text of re­al­ity TV, par­tic­u­larly since I’ve had some time to process the events of Sun­day, Novem­ber 29, this year.

On that day, an episode ig­nited out­rage when the groom-to-be stated that he had be­gun “dat­ing” his fi­ancée when she was 14 and he was 28. Given her age, his be­hav­iour was to­tally wrong.

Un­for­tu­nately, so too were the choices of the team work­ing on the episode. Fo­cused on telling the story of a man who has since be­come a pas­tor, they de­cided to pri­ori­tise his cur­rent cir­cum­stances. In do­ing so, it ap­peared to all that Our Per­fect Wed­ding was mak­ing light of his dark past. It was an aw­ful er­ror and a clear fail­ing. For that, I’m deeply sorry. My com­pany, Con­nect TV, and Mzansi Magic have also apol­o­gised – that episode should never have been aired.

The only pos­i­tive thing to emerge from the re­sult­ing out­cry was that an is­sue whose res­o­lu­tion is vi­tal to our so­ci­ety’s growth was again high­lighted, thanks to the col­lec­tive ef­forts of those who had protested.

The young and the vul­ner­a­ble, who are of­ten the tragic vic­tims of abuse in this coun­try, must be pro­tected. For those of us who work in TV, it is our re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that we do not set back the achieve­ment of this vi­tal goal – at all, ever.

Since that day, I’ve thought a lot about the chal­lenges ahead. As a pro­ducer who has worked on many pro­grammes, I’ve re­alised that it’s a com­plex genre, which is fur­ther com­pli­cated by the fact that there will al­ways be de­bates about its real mo­tives.

For some it’s just trash TV, seen as ex­ploita­tive and vul­gar to gain rat­ings. For oth­ers, it shows our world as it re­ally is – whether we are com­fort­able with see­ing it, or not.

So what is our job as pro­duc­ers? To be care­ful with whose lives we pro­file? To be vig­i­lant with what we screen? To im­prove how we pro­duce these shows? Yes, yes and ab­so­lutely yes. That, now more than ever, is clear to us.

But what I think we must clar­ify bet­ter is that there’s more than one kind of re­al­ity TV – it also has sub­cat­e­gories. We make en­ter­tain­ment re­al­ity and en­gage­ment re­al­ity.

Pro­grammes like Diski Di­vas and Date My Fam­ily are en­ter­tain­ment re­al­ity, where au­di­ences fol­low the lives of those who have vol­un­teered to put theirs in the spot­light to see how they live, how they love, what they dream, and what they seek.

Then there is en­gage­ment re­al­ity TV. That’s when peo­ple write in, seek­ing help to im­prove their lives.

In Utatakho, we tackle the heart-wrench­ing sub­ject of ab­sen­tee fa­thers, help­ing those who are search­ing for their ge­netic iden­tity to progress in their jour­ney. In Please Step In, we in­ter­vene in sit­u­a­tions that have frus­trated our view­ers with seem­ingly no end in sight.

For us, there are also shows that cross both cat­e­gories – shows like Our Per­fect Wed­ding and Boot­camp Mzansi. Th­ese are en­ter­tain­ment shows, but also en­gage­ment shows. They speak to the pride that peo­ple have in mak­ing a bet­ter ver­sion of them­selves, or shar­ing their most spe­cial mo­ments.

It’s pos­si­bly the most rig­or­ous type of re­al­ity TV be­cause it merges two com­pletely dif­fer­ent el­e­ments – en­ter­tain­ment and en­gage­ment.

Au­di­ences de­mand to be en­ter­tained, but for par­tic­i­pants, it’s about en­gag­ing with their fu­tures.

Both want us in their lives, so we must try to give them the ex­pe­ri­ences they can re­late to. Then, they must carry the nar­ra­tive for­ward.

Of course, when au­di­ences add their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion to what they see, we are crit­i­cised for mak­ing peo­ple the ob­ject of ridicule. Sim­ply be­cause, on so­cial-me­dia plat­forms, some view­ers mock what they’ve seen. We don’t en­cour­age this, but we are chas­tised for it. The truth is that we pack­age the pro­gramme, in­tent on mak­ing TV that is rel­e­vant, and the pub­lic de­cides how it will re­act.

I am not writ­ing to ex­cuse the in­ex­cus­able. I’m writ­ing to ex­plain more about what we do be­cause while we some­times stum­ble, we won’t stop mak­ing re­al­ity TV. If we do, if we let our fail­ures crush our at­tempts, then we miss the op­por­tu­nity of cre­at­ing tele­vi­sion that stim­u­lates, con­fronts and chal­lenges.

In good mo­ments, re­al­ity TV can drive change, fos­ter un­der­stand­ing and cre­ate joy.

I know we must be bet­ter – and we will be. All I ask is that you do not let our mis­takes de­fine our con­tri­bu­tions, which are valu­able in so many ways.

Ku­malo is head of Con­nect TV

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