The Brits have always had a knack for cheap TV. After stuffing endless hours of gardening and cookery shows down our throats as kids, they faced a major problem when the English went from 4 channels in 1990 to roughly 13,948 with cable a few years after. There simply aren't enough gardens to prune or recipes to cook to fill the massive expanse of airtime.
Although reality TV existed in the States before it became 98% of British culture, the US shows such as Candid Camera had some semblance of set-up, actors, cost and all the things that make a TV show. The British twist was truly unique by removing these artifices, and applying a budget so low that the camera tripod industry would never recover.
The sheer brilliance of the format is that it's not really reality at all, but a way to set up Joe Public to look as dumb as a box of - what are those things? - oh, yeah, rocks. It's nice to see how the genre has evolved from a security camera connected to a TV station to something much crueler, visceral and inhumane - more like a Roman circus.
Skipping the obvious targets like The Swan, here are my picks for the most bizarre Reality Shows ever:
There's Something About Miriam
The transgender version of The Bachelor brings Mexican model Miriam as the prize for one of six lucky British men. Naturally, Miriam is not unattractive but there's one big surprise: "she's a man, baby!". The show managed to combine some fairly sick voyeurism with the need to make a bunch of alpha males look gay. Whoever came up with the idea was obviously beaten up by the cool sports kids at school and wanted to get back at them in the major way - and succeeded, frankly. Lawsuits abounded, needless to say, which is quite an achievement in a country that generally doesn't sue.
It apparently spawned "Playing It Straight", which I can barely even bring myself to talk about.
Silent Library will be studied by future generations once all the books are moved to Kindle and are accidentally deleted. The idea is that six students sit in a library, where they have to be quiet while enduring tortures like "rabbit crap on face" (cue to 3:40 in the video) and "nose fishing" (4:45). Ninja Warrior masks some of the cruelty by pretending to be a contest, but Silent Library cuts to the chase and gives us raw unfiltered Schadenfreude. It is the funniest show ever made and the US version doesn't even approach the levels of insanity of the original.
Back To Reality
Channel 5 is the newest of the terrestrial TV channels in the UK, but most of their ideas are sourced from some other planet. The principal idea is to bring reality TV "celebrities" from other shows back together - in reality. There are some truly mind-boggling people who become famous on these programs, and if you even wondered how it happened, you'll be completely baffled after just a few minutes of this.
There was a precursor to this in the 1980s called "Watching Us, Watching You", or "Watching Them, Watching Us" or something like that. The show consisted of footage of people watching TV. I can't find any evidence of it on the Internet, so if I made it up by accident I'm selling the idea to Fox.
If you wondered what destroyed the alien spacecraft in Independence Day, it's simple: they uploaded one whole season of Big Brother. The grand-daddy of them all, Big Brother has been exported to practically every country in the world under the same name (though bizarrely called Loft Story in France), and yet manages to stay true to its original format of representing everything that's wrong with humanity.
Originating from the Netherlands, when Big Brother hit the UK it was a phenomenon so huge that it overtook headlines for weeks. The house/studio was under siege from millions of people and needed round the clock security. Hundreds of thousands competed to be part of the show in its subsequent seasons. All of this so that we might glimpse somebody making out or having a shower. Amazing.
Man Versus Beast
There are so many unanswered questions in the universe - what is the significance of the Golden Ratio? What life exists at the bottom of the oceans? But if you're honest, the one that's most pressing is "can a team of midgets pull a aircraft down a runway faster than an elephant?" Well I for one won't stand back idly and not find out the answer to that question. As for the "chimp versus a Navy Seal" and "gymnast versus an orangutan", I won't spoil the surprise. Clearly PETA was on a nap break during filming.
I'm Hotter Than My Daughter
The interesting thing about scraping the bottom of the barrel is that you can just keep going and going. As twilight draws in on Western civilization, and we descend into something like the orgy scene from the second season of True Blood, I'm Hotter Than My Daughter will act as a historic milestone marker in our rapid fall from grace.
The quote from British tabloid The Sun just about says it all:
Sharon, from East Ham, East London, says: "I'm in reverse roles with my daughter - I like to dress young, tight and skimpy - and she's too frumpy. "Well, I've spent so much money on my boobs that I may as well show them off.
Really? There's an East Ham?
Touch The Truck
Fortunately, I couldn't find a video clip of this. It aired for only one season on Channel 5, the laughing stock of television, based around the idea that the last person to take their hands off a truck won (the truck). A mob of a fifty-or-so people started, and 88 hours later, sleep-deprived and quite insane, the last guy standing drove away with his prize (and abruptly fell asleep at the wheel presumably).
The makers took the endurance side of some of the Japanese TV shows and mixed it with all the fun of watching paint dry. The presenter's dialog was a mixture of mediocre-level puns on the F-word ("keep on trucking", "lucky truckers") and innuendos ("the most fun you can have with your right hand"). Personally, I would have laid on top of the truck and duct-taped my hands on the sunroof.
That concludes my tour of the reality nightmare. I'm starting to think that Balloon Boy's Dad had a great idea for a show.
I am a frequent watcher of CNN and every once in a while a tidbit from reality television makes its way to its broadcasts (ex. A guy punching a woman on some MTV show). I may have said it in my headline above but I will repeat it. I do not want to know anything about these mindless programs that makes stars out of idiots! I do not care to know who the Bachelor didn't give a rose to, who Simon sniped on or if John (thank goodness I don't know his last name) cheated on his wife/girlfriend. &nbs … more
Reality television is a genre of television programming that presents purportedly unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, documents actual events, and usually features ordinary people instead of professional actors. Although the genre has existed in some form or another since the early years of television (primarily with game shows), the term reality television is most commonly used to describe programs of this genre produced since 2000. Documentaries and nonfictional programming such as news and sports shows are usually not classified as reality shows.
The genre covers a wide range of programming formats, from game or quiz shows which resemble the frantic, often demeaning shows produced in Japan in the 1980s and 1990s (such as Gaki no tsukai), to surveillance- or voyeurism-focused productions such as Big Brother.
Reality television frequently portrays a modified and highly influenced form of reality, utilizing sensationalism to attract viewers to generate advertising profits. Participants are often placed in exotic locations or abnormal situations, and are sometimes coached, to act in certain scripted ways by off-screen "story editors" or "segment producers," with the portrayal of events and speech manipulated and contrived to create an illusion of reality through editing and other post-production techniques.