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Thursday, November 12, 1998 Published at 17:44 GMT


The rise of peepshow TV

Nasubi is a star in Japan, but he doesn't know it yet

"No subject too indecent, no individual too pathetic," reads a slogan on the office wall of Jerry Springer, the undisputed king of confessional television.

The BBC's Juliet Hindell takes a peek at Japan's controversial new television star
Well how about this Jerry: a naked Japanese man is confined to a tiny apartment for months on end as he tries to win his way out. His every move is tracked by camera and, unknown to him, is being broadcast to the nation.

Sounds like a rip-off of the Hollywood smash hit, The Truman Show? Well yes, but while that was the work of an imaginative scriptwriter, this is real-life.

[ image: He has no clothes, so walks around naked]
He has no clothes, so walks around naked
Like it or not - and that probably depends on which side of the camera you're on - peepshow TV is already here.

Nasubi is the name of the unfortunate Japanese candidate whose private habits are literally being laid bare for all to see.

His challenge, in this latest example of broadcasting taken to the limits, is to win one million yen of goods to gain his freedom.

In mitigation, claim the show's executives, Nasubi can leave at anytime and although he is unaware of his rapidly growing superstar status, he does know he is being filmed. He just hasn't been told about the weekly broadcasts.

Threat of new channels

The moral guardians of British broadcasting hope legislation would stand in the way of such a programme in the UK.

But as competition on the airwaves hots up with hundreds of new channels, courtesy of digital broadcasting, there is growing concern that we could all one day become television voyeurs.

[ image: The show is top of the ratings in Japan]
The show is top of the ratings in Japan
In The Truman Show, actor Jim Carrey plays a man who grows up unaware that his whole life is being filmed and relayed live to an avid TV audience.

It's the ultimate true-to-life soap opera and, as any TV insider will tell you, the concept is cheap and very popular.

That's an irresistible combination for anyone in the business and one that we are moving towards, says Dr David Morrison, research director at the University of Leeds communications institute.

Moral code

In fact, were it not for the code set down by the Broadcasting Standards Commission, TV companies would "without doubt" already be there, he says.

"If there are ratings to be got and money to be made I don't think they would be able to turn it down," he says.

But the BSC must to work increasing hard to stay one-step ahead of broadcasters.

[ image: The Truman Show deals with the issue of peepshow TV]
The Truman Show deals with the issue of peepshow TV
A rash of complaints from people offended at appearing on television without having agreed to do so, look set to prompt a review of rules on informed consent - what individuals are told before they take part in a programme - said a BSC spokesman.

Obviously some folk disagree with the advice of author Gore Vidal, who said "never turn down sex or the chance to appear on television".

British TV audiences have certainly shown a taste for the "real life" dramas, in which informed consent is a major side issue. Viewers have lapped up the recent trend for "docu-soaps" - fly on the wall documentaries - which include Clampers, Hotel, Lakesiders and The Cruise.

Docu-soaps still dominate

Alex Holmes, editor of the BBC's Modern Times series, says real-life broadcasting continues to dominate the minds of television bosses.

"People are interested in other people's ordinary lives. It's democracy in action and it involves common experience," he says. "There's a powerful fascination in watching other people."

Combing that with Candid Camera style-hidden cameras adds the extra fascination of being able to spy on subjects as they go about their daily business.

[ image: Sandy, one star of the BBC docu-soap Clampers]
Sandy, one star of the BBC docu-soap Clampers
Dr Morrison calls it an "unpleasant and degrading game" but fears we are edging ever closer.

"It's a whole grey area," he says, citing the trend for shows such as Police, Camera, Action which presents police-shot video of crimes in action as prime-time entertainment. The moral justification for this and others that use hidden cameras is that they are in the public interest.

"You will see an increasing difficulty in the job of regulators. Surveillance itself will not be easy because of the number of channels coming on stream. It's just a matter of time."

While it may be a long while before we witness a real-life Truman Show in our sitting rooms, the idea can no longer be ruled out.

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