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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 13:04 GMT
Gorilla TV grips Czech viewers
By Michael Voss
BBC News, Prague

The dominant male - Richard
Viewers can cast their vote for their favourite gorilla
Reality television has become a global phenomenon.

Television stations around the world are devising programmes where members are either forced to live together in a small house or endure extreme conditions or tasks.

Now Czech state television has come up with perhaps the most unusual contestants to date: gorillas.

The show takes place in the gorilla enclosure at Prague Zoo, where there are 16 cameras discreetly placed throughout the living and sleeping quarters, as well as in the garden.

Around the clock

Among the contestants are Richard, the only male of the group, weighing in at around 175 kg. He is joined by three females, one of them the mother of his child, one-year-old Moja who weighs a mere 8 kg and is just learning to walk.

Baby gorilla Moja
The antics of baby Moja have provided much amusement
Their every move is covered from a mobile studio, housed in a container outside the enclosure, where producers track and edit the action around the clock.

Highlights are shown twice every morning on the breakfast TV show, with further action available on cable. There is also live screening available online.

Viewers text in votes for their favourite animal - but the winner does not get to return to the jungle.

Instead, once the series is over, the gorilla with the most votes will receive 12 melons - a favourite fruit. It is also a play on words for the KCs11m (256,055; 379,268 euros) prize for the rival human Big Brother show.

Large audiences

It was the brainchild of Miroslav Bobek, a producer at Czech state radio.

A view of the gallery where the programme is produced
The show's makers say it educates viewers about the gorillas
"There are two sides to the project," he says.

"One is entertainment - the reality TV show, conflicts in the villa and so on. But the main thing is education.

"We are giving people information about animals, their behaviour and looking for similarities with people, with our world."

It is a format that has captured the public's imagination, with large audiences tuning in for their daily dose of animal reality TV.

There's Richard showing his tender side when playing with his baby Moja - whose faltering attempts to walk and climb can be highly amusing.

They are the most human-like animals, this is probably why people are so interested in the gorilla show
Pavel Brandl, zoo curator
But when it comes to food, the male reasserts his dominance, chasing away the females and fighting for the best titbits.

There are jealousies too. One of the females, Kamba, is a late arrival, having come to Prague from a zoo in the Netherlands halfway through the show. Her attempts to fit in and become part of the family have also made fascinating viewing.

The zoo's curator of mammals, Pavel Brandl, believes that part of the programme's success is because gorillas show such human-like behaviour.

A father and child watch the gorillas at the zoo
Many visitors to the zoo come because they are fans of the show
"They are so similar to us. They are the most human-like animals, this is probably why people are so interested in the gorilla show."

Critics are not so kind - some say it shows just how dumb reality television has become.

Professor Jan Jirak, who teaches Media Studies at Charles University in Prague, fears that television is hitting new lows in its bid to constantly come up with new formats.

"It shows that whatever is put on TV will attract some attention and the old stuff of aesthetics and drama are lost forever," he says.

But whatever the verdict, the programme is making a positive contribution towards the world's gorilla population. All the money raised from the text voting is going to a gorilla reserve in Africa.

See the gorillas on the programme

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