Reality TV is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but isn’t it time we swapped the usual variations on a theme for some new, more adventurous and more interesting styles of reality programming?
It was in the summer of 2000 that Big Brother formed the vanguard for a new genre of low-budget but commercially lucrative reality TV that made stars, however fleetingly, of ordinary members of the public. And while the doors of the UK Big Brother house may have closed for the final time this year (at least until it is resurrected elsewhere), reality TV is not going away any time soon.
Whether it is DIY makeover/property shows (Changing Rooms, Property Ladder), ‘make dreams come true’ competitions (X Factor, The Apprentice, America’s Next Top Model), Z-list celebrity vehicles (Strictly Come Dancing, I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here or any of the seemingly interminable string of series featuring Katie Price) or ‘day in the life’ style documentary-style programming (Helicopter Heroes, Traffic Cops), it seems like no matter where you turn these days there is always a reality show on our screens somewhere.
However, with many of the best-known reality formats now mature or long past their sell-by dates – Big Brother ran for 11 series, American Idol is entering its tenth year, and even ongoing ratings winners like The Apprentice are beginning to show their age – surely there is a gap in the market for some high-concept newcomers which would fit somewhere between the established old guard and the many cheap-as-chips, paint-by-numbers variants which are fast becoming omnipresent on the TV schedules?
With tongue firmly inserted in cheek, here are five ideas for reality show pilots I would love to see commissioned:
1. Robbin’ Hoodies
Nottingham – the city of the legendary Robin Hood – has a reputation for being the gun crime capital of the UK, hence its nickname ‘Shottingham’. This series would follow a notorious gang of hoodie-clad teenage ruffians as they terrorise the innocent citizens of the city, robbing from the rich to give to the poor (i.e. themselves and their ASBO-riddled, benefit-claiming council estate families and friends).
As the series progresses, we will come to understand more about these deprived and poorly educated young men and women, allowing the audience to develop a conflicted sense of empathy with each of them as they repeatedly escape capture by an overstretched Nottingham police force hampered by bureaucratic red tape and budget cuts. Each episode to be narrated by Nottingham’s most famous ex-copper: ice dancer Christopher Dean.
2. Britain’s Next Top Lap-Dancer
Perfect for a late night Five or Bravo audience, follow the aspirations of twelve nubile young girls as they pursue their dreams of becoming a star performer at a top gentleman’s club. This show would follow the competition, X Factor-style, from the original screening auditions featuring the usual array of ‘talent’, from the fat and the ugly to the Page Three/weather girl wannabes via the desperately self-delusional.
The judging panel would comprise Peter Stringfellow, Simon Cowell and the glamour model Katie Price (formerly known as Jordan formerly known as Katie Price but never known as Katie Andre-because-that-would-be-stupid). Lucrative revenue-generating opportunities would include a sponsorship deal with Spearmint Rhino, and online/mobile video content of contestant auditions, performance highlights and behind-the-scenes (un)dressing room interviews which we are sure would go viral among male viewers. The show would be hosted by someone with the requisite level of class: Jodie Marsh, say.
Potential downside: will undoubtedly create controversy for its objectification of women. Potential upside: will undoubtedly create controversy for its objectification of women.
3. Turning the Tables
Ever wonder how the experts and judges on other reality shows would fare if they were thrown into the contestants’ shoes? Wonder no longer, as this series will seek out who is the real deal as the tables are turned.
Imagine Dannii Minogue squirming as she is forced to sing live in front of a studio audience every week. Or how about Lord Alan Sugar (and a team of Amstrad employees hand-picked for their ineptitude) being asked to invent and design a new children’s toy in six hours, and then pitch it to unforgiving trade buyers? Sarah Beeny could be teamed with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to buy and redecorate a council house using only items commonly available in B&Q with a budget defined by whatever social security benefits they can get hold of. Or the multi-millionaire investors from Dragons’ Den would have to pitch their business ideas to a panel of suburban bank managers.
At the end of each week’s episode, a live studio audience (as well as viewers at home) would have the opportunity to vote for whether they think the experts pass muster in the real world.
4. Celebrity Rehab
The biggest issue with recruiting recognisable celebrities for reality shows is that most of the interesting ones are (a) not overly keen on witchetty grubs and (b) often indisposed in rehab at The Priory for addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex or generally being a celebrity. This day-in-the-life concept would neatly side-step both problems by being based in the Priory’s flagship clinic in Roehampton, giving viewers an insight into its staff and clientele.
The audience will be enraptured as Kate Moss sips a cup of camomile tea, or as Susan Boyle takes a nice, relaxing walk in the garden. There will be highs and lows, tantrums and happy endings, as the series follows famous people while at their most vulnerable.
5. Lords and Ladies
Picture a British, reality TV version of The West Wing, following the trials and tribulations of the 700-plus members of the House of Lords. Lords and Ladies is that show, a series which will play an educational role in explaining the parliamentary responsibility of the upper house in terms of shaping legislation in the UK.
More importantly, it will focus heavily on pseudo-documentary storylines examining the hardships these peers face in such critical situations as claiming expenses, and the innocent mistakes which so frequently result in accidentally misrepresenting one’s primary home, or forgetfully failing to declare high value gifts, or simply claiming expenses which are nothing more than the work of a fevered and highly creative imagination.
If viewer interest is high, there would undoubtedly be plenty of material for a spin-off series starring Labour peer Baroness Uddin, who we believe would be available for a very reasonable fee (plus expenses, of course).
If you have any further ideas you would like to suggest, please feel free to leave a comment below.