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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Reality bandwagon rolls on

By Nick Higham
BBC media correspondent

Big Brother
Channel 4 is cranking up Big Brother's lavish publicity campaign
Big Brother starts this week. Brace yourselves.

Expect the usual saturation coverage on Channel 4 fronted by an over-excited Davina McCall, and the usual super-saturated coverage in the tabloids.

There's already an on-screen logo counting down the days to the start on E4, which will be streaming live coverage of goings-on in the Big Brother house from 2130-2245 each evening, and again through the night - and whose ratings and share of audience rise dramatically whenever Big Brother is on.

Last week ITV's I'm a Celebrity┐ Get Me Out of Here finished with a peak audience for the final show of 13.3 million and a 52.4% share of viewing - 1.5 million more than watched Tony Blackburn voted the viewers' favourite in the finale of the first series last year.

And just as Big Brother transforms E4's performance, so I'm a Celebrity transforms ITV2's. The junior network's own Celebrity series finale gave it a larger audience in multichannel homes at 2230 last Friday than Channel 4, BBC Two or Five.

The week before ITV2's total share of multichannel viewing went up to 3.33%, more than double the same week last year, making the channel briefly more popular than Sky One.

Avalanche

Phil Tufnell
Phil Tufnell's I'm A Celebrity win boosted ITV2
In the past few years what started as a trickle has become an avalanche.

Everywhere you look there are reality TV shows, inviting ordinary members of the public and others you've vaguely heard of to bare their (often not very interesting) secrets, expose their vulnerability and volunteer to make fools of themselves.

This week also sees the launch of Celebrity Detox Camp on Five (a show in which the "ugh!" factor is even higher than in Celebrity) and there's a whole raft of other look-alike shows waiting for a slot in the schedules, stacked up like aircraft waiting to land at Heathrow.

In fact there are too many. Most will bomb. Who now remembers even the name of the early Big Brother rip-off on Five in which inmates had to escape from a jail?

Last week's Observer devoted half a page to the genre - and to attacking the cruelty and humiliation it sometimes involves.

Springer opera

Jailbreak
Five's Big Brother-style show was 2000's Jailbreak
At London's National Theatre you can see a wonderfully funny production, Jerry Springer: The Opera, which parodies one of the early forerunners of reality TV and invites you to marvel at the willingness of ordinary folk to humiliate themselves, like Christians volunteering to feed the lions - and all for their very own "Jerry Springer moment".

The show is wonderful, though not quite as brilliant as the rave reviews make out. It is also quite scabrous and gratuitously offensive. Do not make the same mistake as a friend of mine, who chose to see it with a lesbian friend sitting next to her.

It's also disappointing if you were hoping for a satirical condemnation of Springer and the rest of the reality TV crowd.

True, Springer is sent to Hell in the second half, but only to discover that both God and the Devil are anxious to appear on a Jerry Springer show of their own (despite Springer's protestations that "I don't do conflict resolution").

Jerry Springer: The Opera
Jerry Springer: The Opera is playing at the National Theatre
The opera works because its creators have a real affection for Springer's show.

It makes the middle class National Theatre audience - many of whom have probably never seen a Jerry Springer Show on TV - complicit in the voyeuristic delights it offers.

While reality TV continues to deliver huge audiences on the box, and even lures people to the National Theatre, you can be sure we haven't seen the last of it.

Expect the avalanche to rumble on unabated as thousands of hopefuls clamour for their fifteen minutes of fame.


SEE ALSO:
Reality TV enters mainstream
13 May 03  |  Entertainment
Jungle stars return to UK
15 May 03  |  Entertainment
Jailbreak trio escape
23 Sep 00  |  Entertainment


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