Matthew Bell reports on our RTS Futures reality TV panel event, featuring the makers of Naked Attraction, Love Island and Geordie Shore.
The constant fear, admitted Philip McCreery, senior producer on Channel 4’s upcoming celebrity version of The Island with Bear Grylls, is that somebody might die on a show. To laughs from the audience at the RTS Futures event examining reality TV, McCreery joked that the channel “probably cares more about celebrities than they do about normal people”.
Taking part in reality shows can be a risky business – Channel 4’s The Jump earlier this year saw a number of celebs wheeled off to hospital after spills on the ski slopes.
Not all programmes, however, put participants in danger. “Reality is about emotions,” argued Craig Orr, commissioning and development director at MTV International. “[Channel 4’s] First Dates is lovely and cosy and the [audience] really gets behind the [daters].”
One of MTV’s current hits, Ex on the Beach, offers another type of reality show. “It’s about the horror and grimness of bumping into your ex. As long as it taps into real emotion people will [watch it],” said Orr. The secret of its success, he added, was that the producers had found “relationships that have gone more and more to shit”.
Researcher Coco Jackson explained how she cast people for new Channel 4 dating show Naked Attraction, which, as its title suggests, demands that participants appear in the buff on telly. “There were people who originally said ‘Yes, I’ll do it’, and then thought [with on demand channel 4OD] my boobs will be on TV for ever or people will pause on my vagina,” she revealed.
Take Me Out: The Gossip (ITV2) co-host Laura Jackson, who chaired the RTS Futures event, asked the panel whether they thought “reality [TV] was eating itself? People know they can get famous and make a quick buck.”
“It’s up to casting producers to weed them out,” replied Orr. But, he added, reality TV has “a never-ending appetite for new characters with bigger personality traits”.
While audiences may wish to see more and more extreme reality shows, production companies and broadcasters have to remain conscious of their duty of care to participants. A dating show such as ITV2’s Love Island, which features large dollops of sex and aggression, presents obvious potential risks to its cast.
“We have an arsenal of tricks,” explained games producer Becky Crosthwaite. “People are young and free and they’re going to shag. We have to tell it [as it is] because it’s part of the story, but there’s a duty of care to make it not seem so seedy. You don’t need to see them, without sheets, going for it.”
Discussing MTV show Geordie Shore, Orr maintained that the cast want viewers to see an accurate presentation of their lives, without censorship: “They’re not prudes.” But, he added, “It’s not porn.”
Looking to the future of the reality genre, Orr predicted “more and more extreme situations”.
McCreery offered a different view, foreseeing “more real situations” but fewer “crazy people”. He added that on programmes such as First Dates “people just turn up and you see what happens. It’s obviously produced, but there aren’t any tasks or winners.”
Reality TV: getting in and staying in
Craig Orr, commissioning and development director: ‘If you’re freelance, work with a good, established production team to back your idea and bring it to life.… Make sure the idea resonates. The reality shows that work best are those that have universal appeal.’
Philip McCreery, senior producer: ‘[My first TV employer] was looking for a runner who spoke French and, obviously, there weren’t too many of them about. Put everything on your CV, because [a potential employer] may do a keyword search…. It was an antiques programme made in France. It was terrible [and] really low budget, but that meant there was more for me to do.’
Coco Jackson, researcher: ‘Because I don’t know what I want to be [eventually], every production that I work on I play a game: “Who do I want to be in this room?” I look at what people do and figure out what I do and don’t like about their job.’
Becky Crosthwaite, games producer: ‘I was scared of [moving] around and being seen as a fraud. I wanted to be the best at [a particular] role and know it inside out, [so] I stayed in the same place…. I didn’t want to move up before I knew I was really good at researching in entertainment.’
Craig Orr: ‘There’s a lot to be gained from doing lots of different types of TV and learning as much as you can from different people, but, as you progress in your career, [you should] do what you love…. If you realise you love Saturday-night, shiny-floor entertainment, then don’t go and do Countryfile. [But], at a senior level, I am only going to employ reality people who’ve got lots of experience in different types of reality show.’
Laura Jackson, presenter: ‘It’s about passion; [people] need to have that fire in their belly.’
Philip McCreery: ‘Think, “How can this story work?” When you’re shooting stuff, trying to make things happen, you should also be thinking constantly, “Will this be entertaining when it’s finally put together?”’
Craig Orr: ‘The best reality producers are speaking to the cast and know how they’re feeling at that moment, so they can second-guess how they might act. If you’ve got that [ability], then you’ll have the cameras ready to [capture] that moment.’
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The RTS Futures event, “The reality of reality TV”, was held at the Hospital Club in central London on 5 September. It was produced by Donna Taberer and Alex Wootten.