So half a gazillion people have sent me this link from the Business Insider about what Americans apparently do wrong. (Thank you, one and all.) I can’t disagree with quite a lot of them; I mean massive portions and food competitions? Ugh.
I do think, however, that the writer either hasn’t been to the UK in a while or just hasn’t taken a good look around, as a few of them were not exactly just an American problem. Let’s take reality TV:
When we think of reality TV Stateside, we think glitz, plastic surgery and multi-million dollar lifestyles. Kardashians and Housewives come to mind. Given that the UK now has cable and satellite as well as “terrestrial” (a development since I left, I might add), there is access to most American reality shows, should that be your penchant. Brits, however, have been doing real reality for decades. Our soaps were never shoulder pads and champagne, but rather gritty, depressing dramas about working-class life; smelly pubs and corner shops featuring heavily. Now, although we can tune in to the latest scripted drama from the Kardashians et al., there’s also a plethora of unscripted reality shows every night of the week, and sometimes back to back.
Some are fly-on-the-wall type shows, with one man and a camera, while other shows rope the general public in and make them compete, – again with one camera operator. Both, however, are probably the cheapest type of television it is possible to produce and bear no resemblance to the US version of “reality” TV.
Let’s just look through my TV guide for this week, shall we?
Monday – Channel 5 at 8 pm brings us Police Interceptors; then we dive straight into 24 Hours in Police custody on Channel 4 at 9 pm. If that’s not enough cop stuff, there’s Traffic Cops back on Channel 5 at 10 pm, followed by Criminals Caught on Camera at 11.05pm. If you’ve had one too many cop shows though, you can switch it up a little back on 4 at 11 pm with 4 Men, 175 Babies – Britain’s Super Sperm Donors. (I kid you not.) As I mentioned, since most of these shows are inexpensive productions involving one bloke following people around with a camera on his shoulder, I think I’ll give this one a miss.
Tuesday – Choices, choices. I can either go green or animals on Tuesday. ITV brings me How to Spend it Well – House and Garden, at 8 pm immediately followed by The Queen’s Green Planet. Or, for cute/sad animals, I can watch The Yorkshire Vet at eight on Channel 5. Now this may sound like a great British drama, in the genre of All Creatures Great and Small or The Durrells, but alas, it’s basically a bloke with a camera, following …. you get the gist.
Wednesday – This night seems to be transportation night with The Great American Railroad at 7 pm (BBC2), then Heathrow- Britain’s Busiest Airport at 8 pm on ITV. (Seriously folks, isn’t air travel stressful enough without having to devote another hour to other people’s travel headaches?) Or, you can follow the Sunday Times (in my case) recommendation and plump for Great Rail Restorations at 8 pm on Channel 4. Nail-biting stuff eh? Presenter and rail enthusiast Peter Snow “visits four teams restoring carriages that can combine to create a “time train” spanning a century of rail travel.”
Thursday – The focus seems to turn towards the home and kitchen with The Nightmare Neighbour Next Door at 7 pm on Channel 5. (Just wondering who allows themselves to be filmed for this, and more importantly, why?) Britain’s Best Home Cook starts at 8 pm on BBC1, then Million Pound Menu on BBC2 at 9pm. Or, I can watch Supershoppers at 8 on Channel 4 and learn what goes into dairy-free milk drinks and which batteries last the longest. The Sunday Times recommends The Secrets of the Chocolate Factory – Inside Cadbury’s at 9 pm on Channel 5 however, so chocs it is.
Friday – As the week draws to a close, it seems the various channels have decided to throw a bit of money at the schedule with Tracey (Ullman) Breaks the News, The Graham Norton Show and Lip Sync Battle Uk, but ooh look, I can scare myself stupid with Mid-Air Mayhem – Flights out of Control at 8pm on Channel 5. I’m presuming that’s not quite fly-on-the-wall as-it’s-happening stuff, but who knows.
So yes, it seems we Brits can do as much Reality TV as a viewer can consume if you don’t mind shoestring budgets and a distinct lack of bling.