A Grip On Reality?

Women UK talk to Belfast based journalist Paula Logan on the crazy world of Reality TV.  So interesting what she has to say on this new phenomenon!

‘Reality TV has evolved globally over recent decades, expanding into every imaginable field. Programmes ranging from talent competitions to home improvement shows enthral worldwide audiences. Some viewers may be avid followers of an array of programmes while others reluctantly admit it is a “guilty pleasure.”

The business of “Reality TV” is a multibillion dollar global industry. The BBC has reportedly earned millions of pounds selling the “Strictly” format to over 40 countries worldwide, while the “Real Housewives” franchise is worth an estimated half-billion dollars to the Bravo Network. Acting as a reality TV host, judge or producer can also be hugely profitable. Simon Cowells income purportedly exceeds $95million annually.

Aspiring to become a “Reality Star” seems an increasingly credible career goal. Product endorsements along with appearances and lucrative magazine deals can make it a well-paid enterprise. In fact, according to Forbes, the top earning Reality stars in the USA grossed a combined $130 million before TAXES between 2015 and 2016 alone.

The wide array of reality shows also provide a host of opportunities for “regular people” to realise their dreams and ambitions. Whether you aspire to “strut down the runway” on Britain’s Next Top Model or belt out a future number one on The Voice, Reality TV could potentially open the door to stardom. The journey can begin at the click of a button. Many programmes accept initial online applications while others tour the length and breadth of the UK in their search for the stars of tomorrow.

The Reality TV Talent Show in particular provides a stage for exceptional acts to display their often unique flair and abilities. The Innova Dance Company participated in Britain’s Got Talent in 2014. The group, from the North Coast of Northern Ireland, reached the Semi Finals of the hugely popular ITV programme.  Dance Teacher Catherine Lamont reveals; “We were a new company when we applied for BGT and saw it as an opportunity to get our name out there. However, we never dreamed that we would get through as far as we did. We were just aiming to get a chance to perform at the Belfast auditions.”

The Choreographer, says of the experience; “BGT has proved to be such a fantastic platform for us. Initially after appearing on the program we were flooded with invites to dance at a whole variety of events and now, nearly 4 years on, we’re still as busy. The show’s YouTube channel has been invaluable to our continued success. With our first audition and semi-final performance each having over 10 million views, we appear very high up the Internet search list for ‘Irish dancers’. It is in this way that a number of clients have discovered us. We honestly can’t thank the show enough.”

The Dancer continues; “The whole BGT experience was absolutely fantastic. Each different stage throughout the process is so vividly memorable and I know that the dancers in our group will always share a unique bond for going through it together.” The choreographer says, “On semi final day we had the opportunity to mix with a myriad of celebs and other acts which in itself was an experience! We would definitely recommend applying for the show.”

Many individuals have also embraced the opportunities afforded by the various RTV genres. Andrew Smyth was a finalist in The Great British Bake Off in 2016. The County Down man explains; “I applied for The Great British Bake Off as I relished the challenge and wanted to put my baking to the test amongst the best amateur bakers in the country. I’ve loved baking from a young age and in the past few years had self-taught myself several new skills. I’ve always been a huge fan of the series and thought it would be great fun if nothing else, I never anticipated reaching the final at all, I just wanted to make it through week 1!”

In relation to the many doors that have been opened to him following his participation in the enormously popular show, the budding Presenter says; “When you’re on the show, you are so laser-focussed on your bakes and each individual week. It was only after the show finished being broadcast that I started to realise the huge platform that bake off is. I’ve had some incredible opportunities the last year including making a cake for Prince William, being a live TV chef on Lorraine and going to the BAFTAs. It’s allowing me to pursue my dream of becoming a science presenter.”

The Engineer says of the overall experience; “Every week in the tent was an absolute blast, the cast and crew were a joy to be around and I’d happily have another weekend in the tent. The production team really made us feel at home and I think Bake Off is one of the nicest TV shows to be part of because of that.”

Many Reality TV participants clearly enjoy well deserved commercial success and career longevity. This is however, not guaranteed. Professor Jane Roscoe of University of West England explains; “For some their participation leads to other television opportunities, for others hopes are dashed.”

While programmes such as The Great British Bake Off and Britain’s Got Talent provide light hearted family entertainment, other shows and their stars, prove more divisive. Kim Kardashian-West gained prominence appearing on E!s Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The Reality personality commands considerable “Reality cheques” and has amassed an estimated fortune of $150 million. Despite her wealth and immense Global popularity, “Mrs Kanye West” is perceived by some as being emblematic of a category of people who are simply “famous for being famous.”

In addition to its entertainment value, RTV can also play a key role in stimulating conversation on important social issues. Big Brother personality, Jade Goody, allowed cameras to follow her journey with terminal illness. This “Reality” programme was credited with encouraging an extra 400,000 women seek NHS Screening for Cervical Cancer in just one year. The phenomenon became known in the medical profession as the “Jade Effect.”  Similarly, in the USA, research indicates that MTVs, “16 and Pregnant” contributed to a 5.7% decrease in births to teenage mothers. John Corner, Professor of Media and Communications recognises, “A major achievement has been that some work has engaged viewers with serious issues that they would not have paid attention to if delivered in a conventional documentary format.” 

The potential influence of Reality TV cannot be overstated.  The election of President Donald Trump illustrates that RTV can have a massive social and political impact.  We witnessed Trumps evolution from Reality TV mogul on The Apprentice -to leader of the World’s most powerful Nation.

The wide appeal of Reality TV is undeniable. So popular has it become that the prestigious Emmy Awards now include a Reality Category.  Professor John Corner says of the genre, “It has become a major and relatively cheap feature of international television schedules and has held on to audiences for two decades despite regular predictions about it being over.” This is evident both in viewing and voting figures.  The Final of 2017s Strictly Come Dancing peaked with an audience of 13.1 million and over 2.5 million votes were cast in the 2017 Finale of Britain’s Got Talent. To the delight of audiences, after a three year hiatus, Dancing on Ice, made a much anticipated return to our screens in January 2018.

Professor Jane Roscoe explains the enduring appeal of Reality TV; “People are fascinating and RTV keeps presenting us with opportunities to observe human behaviour in all its forms. Love it or hate it –    RTV and RTV stars keep our TV schedules alive!”

Globally, Reality TV continues to dominate TV listings. Few are immune to its allure. The abundant supply of the wide array of programmes will no doubt endure, as it evident that we are clearly a society with a very tight grip -on “Reality.”’

By Paula Logan


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