New Zealanders have had a huge appetite for reality television for decades. It's a phenomenon that started in the early 80s in America with The People's Court and then Cops — you know the one with the Bad Boys Bad Boys watcha gonna do theme song and since then we have morphed the real lives of people and their situations into thousands of TV shows.
A new one started here in New Zealand last Monday night called Taranaki Hard. This is a show which follows the lives of a diverse group of enthusiastic 18 to 30 year olds who bravely share their ups and downs while living in Waitara — and I was instantly hooked.
Reality television is something I'm no stranger to, having hosted the first two seasons of The Bachelor NZ. There was always one question you knew would be asked . Is it real ?
Time and time again I found myself defending the genre of reality TV. The situation in which the cast of young ladies found themselves while participating in The Bachelor would have seemed unreal for many, but the actual outcomes and general storyline just unfolded, leaving clever producers a chance to turn it into big-rating television — the type of TV where people passed opinions during workplace banter. Yes it was real.
During my hosting role I was lucky enough to have a bird's eye view of the process, of not only watching how reality TV was made but also the effect it had on the contestants. All of a sudden they had a profile, were in magazines and discussed by wacky radio jocks who passed judgment on their lives and their antics.
Soon the whole country was talking about Naz or Art and Matilda and that is when you realised being a contestant or participant of a TV show where your whole life is exposed is quite a daunting prospect. New Zealand is a small nation and I often was approached by people who "used to be Art's teacher" or the person whose brother's aunt used to cut the hair of Matilda when she was younger. You eventually realised nearly everyone on TV was connected through a weird tapestry of 6 degrees of separation and a reality show was the perfect vehicle to connect those dots.
You have to be brave to bare your soul to the nation but the reason we love these shows comes back to the people involved. My mates Jono and Ben are fronting a TV show about dogs. They are great broadcasters, funny and engaging, but it's not Jono and Ben who make that show watchable, it's not even the dogs (sorry canine friends). Its beauty lies with the owners of the dogs and their stories. We remember the drama of the people in the show, not so much the drama of the actual show. That being said we are seeing more and more formats like Taranaki Hard become primetime viewing where there is no real premise for the show — it's just a chance to see New Zealanders being real with their day-to-day struggles.
I'm not sure I would let a camera crew follow me around — to be honest it would make boring TV. I just wake up, walk the dog, do some work from home, then walk to work and then home again where I do the domestic chores and watch some reality TV. Pretty mundane stuff, so I take my hat off to those who share their lives with us as I suspect it's no easy task to be the subject of social media slurs and judgment.
Okay some people hate reality TV. There's always someone writing to an editor or posting about how "lame TV in NZ is" and "why on Earth do they put this rubbish on TV", but they too are playing into the hands of the TV show makers — debating the genre exposes the show and leads to more viewers as we learn more about how other New Zealanders live their lives.
I'm currently addicted to watching online real estate auctions because I love seeing the drama of buying a house played out, the jaw-dropping amounts of money spent or the bargains to be had — capped off by applause from the auction room as people's dreams are realised or lost. I suspect it won't be long before this type of auction room reality becomes another real estate show, where hopefully you meet the people behind the bids.
Police, farming, dancing, singing building, schools, emergencies and more — hell we even have a reality show where we watch people watching TV — it's all being covered and they rate. Situations aside, the reason these shows work is because it's about the people and trust me, situations maybe manufactured but the people, they are very real.