Archive for the soup

Crimewatch

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, Behind-The-Scenes, Reality TV, TV channels, TV History, TV News with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2014 by Tom Steward

2014 will be remembered as the year American TV went on trial. I mean that quite literally. Three of the stars of Bravo reality franchise The Real Housewives have been given prison sentences for fraud in recent months, and earlier in the year another was arrested for an altercation on the show. In the last few weeks, American TV icon Bill Cosby has been accused of multiple historic instances of sexual assault by women, and his past and future TV shows have been pulled by Netflix, NBC and TV Land. TLC also made the decision to cancel their reality series Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo after star ‘Mama’ June Shannon reportedly started dating a registered sex offender. The reactions from the networks concerned have been variable.

Sopranos Remake Goes Ahead with Cast of Unknowns!

Sopranos Remake Goes Ahead with Cast of Unknowns!

Bravo appointed themselves unofficial court stenographers for the trials of Teresa and Joe Giudice on multiple bank, mortgage and bankruptcy fraud charges and Apollo Nida for bank, mail and wire fraud, following their court appearances on The Real Housewives of New Jersey and The Real Housewives of Atlanta and putting them on every conceivable sister show on the network before and after sentencing. It’s not exaggerating to say that the court cases have been the key interest for each of the series this year, or that Bravo has been unapologetically wallowing in their losses of freedom. The network has skirted around the issue of their guilt and culpability, wasting no opportunity to portray Nida and the Giudices as victims of circumstances, rather than knowing criminals

This is hardly surprising given how Bravo behaved when a criminal act took place on one of their shows. Porscha Williams was charged with assault after attacking Kenya Moore (or rather a tenuously linked appendage of hers) on the ‘Reunion’ episode of this season’s The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The end-of-season special brings the invariably estranged co-stars on to a studio stage and uses footage from the series (and typically social media baiting) to provoke conflict between the guests. The formula is such that violence of one kind or another is inevitable, and that the assault was less of a by-product of the show than a slightly cruder version of its desired effect. Bravo didn’t express the contrition appropriate to goading a person into criminality.

The different between the responses of Bravo and Cosby’s networks may be attributed to the gulf in the seriousness of the alleged crimes, but there could be more at stake. In 2012, it emerged that deceased TV personality Jimmy Savile, an entertainer equivalent in status to Cosby in British popular culture, had been one of the country’s worst ever paedophiles, a fact widely known during his lifetime but downplayed through his connections to the UK establishment. The revelations about Savile laid bare a culture of sexual abuse and assault in British showbusiness in the past few decades. Of course, I’m not suggesting that what Cosby is accused of doing is on the same scale as Savile’s serial child abuse, although both have a moral point-of-no-return.

I make the comparison because in their knee-jerk reaction to media-led allegations, Netflix’s decision to postpone Cosby’s special, NBC’s termination of a new Bill Cosby sitcom, and TV Land removing reruns of The Cosby Show from their schedules might be a tactic to draw a line under the controversy before it takes out any more of the entertainment legends their business depends on. There’s no reason to disbelieve the women who are coming forward to accuse Cosby, since they have all to lose and nothing to gain by smearing the comedian’s good name, but the networks have based their verdicts calls on unsubstantiated claims in lieu of a police investigation. If CNN’s reproach of Joan Tarshis is representative, it’s not about solidarity with Cosby’s alleged victims.

There Goes Honey Boo-Boo!

There Goes Honey Boo-Boo!

TLC cancelled Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo as June Shannon apparently resumed her relationship with Mark McDaniel, who was convicted of molesting June’s daughter Anna Cardwell. The network should be commended for sacrificing one of their most valuable properties in making a moral stance, but TLC’s rhetoric about their duty of care towards the Shannon children is disingenuous. A network statement said TLC was committed to ‘health and welfare of these remarkable children’ but they’ve never been conflicted about exploiting their socio-economic disadvantages for entertainment and, as E!’s TV review The Soup illustrated, the network haven’t made any interventions to prevent the children’s health problems. While Bravo is clearly the most exploitative network here, at least it doesn’t pretend to have anything but self-interest at heart.

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Watching Americans with TV

Posted in American TV (General), American TV Shows, British Shows on American TV, Reality TV, TV channels, TV History, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by Tom Steward

Last Christmas when I was back in the UK I became obsessed with Channel 4’s Gogglebox, a reality show where we watch people watching television. An unbeatable premise executed to perfection, it was just the right mix of sociology, sitcom, soap opera and vox pop. Upon returning to the US, I learnt Gogglebox was to be re-made in America as The People’s Couch by socialite reality cable network Bravo. Bravo has never cared about representing the American public before so it seemed a curious choice of import. Saying that, Channel 4 is not exactly a public service channel anymore either.

When Gogglebox starting airing last year, the idea of watching TV viewers on TV was already familiar to British audiences. The Royle Family, one of the most popular British sitcoms of the last 20 years, largely consisted of a family sitting in their living room with the TV on. Football fans have been watching pundits watch Premier League games on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday for decades now. The notion of TV re-capping TV wasn’t news either. One of our biggest comedies of recent years TV Burp was a retrospective of the week’s TV with irreverent commentary from offbeat entertainer Harry Hill.

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday: Watching pundits watch football.

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday: Watching pundits watch football.

Gogglebox wasn’t the first attempt at this idea on British television, just the first version of it that people wanted to watch and channels would want to commission. In the early 2000s, the live late-night Channel 4 panel show Flipside TV had celebrity guests providing running commentary on TV programmes airing at the same time. Its graveyard slot meant there was no danger of losing viewers to other channels, but Gogglebox eased the format into primetime by having it recount the previous week’s TV. Flipside TV also didn’t have two of Gogglebox’s prime draws; the public and TV clips.

The concept is not exactly unheard of in American TV either. The couch-potato sitcoms of the ‘80s and ‘90s such as Roseanne and The Simpsons added a layer of realism to the depiction of American family life by showing characters in front of the TV, although the shows they watched were largely invented or embellished. E!’s The Soup trawls through clips of the week’s TV with mocking commentary from comedian Joel McHale, in a format very similar to TV Burp. But it’s invariably a specific kind of bad and bizarre reality TV that’s always seen ironically and functions as material.

Who are we watching?

Who are we watching?

The format of The People’s Couch is virtually the same as Gogglebox. We watch reactions to and conversations about TV programmes of the past week from different sets of viewers (families, couples, friends) who re-appear each week. Participants all watch the same programmes; although we suspect some of them have been prompted to. Each segment centres on a specific show, which tends to be popular, new or somehow different. We flip between viewers depending on who has the most interesting or entertainment reaction, and we get substantial extracts from TV shows so we know specifically what they are reacting to.

There are, however, minor changes that make all the difference. Gogglebox tries to be as representative as possible of the diversity of British society in terms of class, race, age, ethnicity, sexuality and region. This is a legacy of Channel 4’s social concern and inclusivity as a broadcaster which it used to have in spades and still rears its head occasionally. The People’s Couch tries to be as representative as possible of the diversity of Bravo viewers, which means sassy women and gay men of more than one ethnicity. This is the difference between broadcasting and narrowcasting in a nutshell.

Before there were people's couches there was Gogglebox!

Before there were people’s couches there was Gogglebox!

Gogglebox shows viewers from all over the UK while The People’s Couch doesn’t stray far from the Hollywood axis preferred by TV producers for geographical convenience. It’s remarkable to see middle-class families on a network that typically won’t bother with people worth less than a million but there’s a socio-economic cut-off point in The People’s Couch that there isn’t in Gogglebox. This is probably more about the relative affordability of digital TV in Britain compared to exorbitant US cable costs, which prevents many lower-income homes from getting extensive TV service and disenfranchises them from participation in the national TV conversation.

The biggest mistake made by The People Couch was chopping Gogglebox’s running time of an hour in half and losing the original’s voiceover. Our attachment to and affection for the viewers we see every week is what makes Gogglebox so compelling and moving. Without a voiceover giving us backgrounds and biographies of the people featured and the time to get to know them, their relationships and routines, The People’s Couch only manages superficial glimpses of its real-life stars. It makes them seem shallower than their UK equivalents, which is regrettable because they’re not (necessarily), just represented without depth or empathy.

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