Friday, 19 June 2009


Another day, another TV researcher asking
"Do you think we could pick your brains? Come film? Find out everything you know?"
"Sure. What's the fee?"
"Oh I'm afraid we don't have a budget."
Why the fuck not? They are getting paid aren't they? To send people like me, people who actually know what they are talking about, begging emails.
Or maybe not. One I spoke to today said, when I suggested that he book for the restaurant if he really wanted to know what it's like, said
"Oh I can't afford it"
You work in TV and you haven't got 25 quid to book a place? What's that about?
At least four TV companies are doing a show...all of them variations on the theme 'Home dining'."We get couples to open a restaurant in their living room" the researchers announce gleefully, reinventing the wheel.
'Come dine with me' is a huge success. They want a different but similar concept. Really similar. Nothing too different. It's like a scene from The Player.
Nobody has actually done a show on (newly) established home restaurants. You know why? Because authenticity is not the name of the game here.
"haha I'm not a documentary maker" said the impoverished young 'producer' "I make entertainment. In fact you probably wouldn't be very good for our show. You are too professional. It's all about the journey you see. We want viewers to engage with the journey. You are further along the journey. We want tears, frustration, panic. 24 hours to turn your home into a restaurant. That kind of thing".
The journey? I inwardly groan. Do none of these people have an original thought in their heads?
You want a journey? I'll give you journey. I'm a single mum. A real one. No hidden bloke. No training. No money. This recession? Don't make me laugh. I've spent years without money. I've also spent years making my flat nice by picking up furniture off the street, crockery from flea markets. I learnt to cook because I couldn't afford to go to restaurants. A year ago I took out an extra mortgage to fulfill a long held Aga. I thought, how old do I have to be before I can have what I want? Just do it.Find the money somehow.
In 2000, the year I moved into this flat, fleeing my Camden studio flat for a larger space in which to bring up my child, I turned on the TV one night. I'd been clearing the jungle-like garden all day. My hands were like claws, dirt ingrained in them.
Exhausted, I numbly flipped channels. On Channel 4 there was this weird programme. A bunch of young people, some in bikinis, sitting about in a house.
One of them was coming out with this story about his wife dying in a car crash or something. He was sweating.
Cut to another scene. The young people go to a little room, in turns, sit on a big chair, talk to the camera. They are unselfconscious, natural. And even when they are unnatural, they are natural. They talk about their problems with the others, about boredom. It's sunny outside.
At first I was tempted to turn over. The pace was slow. It was all a bit dull. But it grew on you. Watching it was a Zen experience. You were watching nothing, minutiae. It was rather soothing. One of the guys had a guitar. One of the girls flirted. One woman, who turned out to be a lesbian nun, came across as thoughtful and intelligent, a rare thing on TV. Another of the boys was Northern, with an impenetrable Newcastle accent.
I found myself watching it every night. I started to feel sorry for the Northern boy. He was 'nominated' to leave every week by the housemates but always kept in when it came to the viewer's vote. He seemed nice but was obviously irritating to live with.
The sweaty guy continued to lie. He got caught. There was a confrontation. He said to the camera in the diary room, memorably "if you live by the sword you die by the sword". It was a bravura display of 'Je ne regrette rien'.

Along with me, the rest of the country had also gradually become interested. In fact, bit by bit, we were all watching these young people. And what was so delicious about it is, they clearly had no idea. At one point helicopters, paid for, I believe, by The Sun newspaper, flew over the house, trying to get a glimpse into what was happening inside. The 'housemates' inside, remarked upon the circulating helicopters, oblivious to the fact that they were the story.
This was great TV. It was never as good afterwards. These contestants were virgins. Every following series included inmates that had had their TV cherry popped, with all the knowing and degrading complicity that goes with that.
I stopped watching.
Last week another series started. We are now post-Jade, the ignorant girl who made a million, ruined her reputation in public and resussitated it by dying.
But they cranked it up again. My daughter turned it on for the opening episode in which the chosen housemates enter the house. Once assembled, Big Brother called a male contestant into the diary room.
"If you want to become a housemate you must find someone who is willing to have their eyebrows shaved off and have glasses and a moustache drawn on them with an indelible pen. You have three minutes."
He ran out of the diary room, breathless, explained. One girl, an attractive black girl, volunteered. He shaved her eyebrows, drew on the funny glasses and moustache. Except it wasn't funny. It was Abu Ghraib. Degradation. Exploitation. Removal of identity. In this era of economic difficulty, when young people are most likely nervous about their future, the dreadful prospect of working very very hard for very very little money in boring jobs, Big Brother was laughing at them for aspiring to be something more. And encouraging us to do the same.
Hahaha. Aren't you ridiculous? We are supposed to think. How desperate are you?
I don't feel that way. I feel cringing embarrassment, shame. These young people, some of them little older than my daughter, exposed and ridiculed. Forever known as 'that Big Brother contestant'.
It's 'They shoot horses don't they?' the book by Horace McCoy in which depression era couples, starving, must dance for days on end, the rules preventing them from proper sleep.
And now every TV programme is like that. Competance, grace, talent is not enough. TV wants "the journey". Ask Susan Boyle.


  1. 'Our' Craig was not from Newcastle, he was from Liverpool.

    The narration was generally in North East speak though. The latest Private Eye (1238, p10) refers to reality TV shows with "laconic commentary - now such a familiar part of the reality genre that you hear it in a Geordie accent even when it isn't spoken in one"

    Totally agree about the first series being so much more compelling than the subsequent ones because the housemates really had no idea what to expect or what was happening on the outside. I can't see many of the people that were in the first series ever applying if they had seen the programme previously, and that's why they were so interesting. Except maybe "Calorine".

  2. The TV researchers are probably unpaid interns.

  3. Excellent post. I know some people in TV feel like they aren't paid well (I was there once) - but you genuinely know what "not having any money" means when you're no longer "gainfully" employed in the media but doing odd jobs to get by.

    I like that your post illustrates the lack of compassion for that exists in the entertainment industry for the human condition. Just watched Ciaron(sp?) get evicted tonight and was appalled at the hard time he received. Give our youth some bloody credit!!

  4. Oh God, I can't tell you how sick I am of "the journey". When did expertise or even competance become a dirty word? That said, I do love Come Dine With Me with a passion but that's despite the woeful cooking and all about the weapons-grade emotions on display.

  5. There's been so little press about this series of BB it's clear Endemol have finally woken up to the fact that no-one cares anymore and they won't spend any money promoting it.

    It's so sad how people's lives are always negatively affected by this - how many BB contestants do you go to see doing something very worthwhile afterwards rather than spill out of nightclubs for a bit then disappear back to where they came?

  6. Great post.
    I completely understand the frustration of other people taking your ideas for free and making a load of money from their over-produced homogenised version. The pretenders won't stick around though. What you do is hard graft and as such has to be passion-driven or it can't be sustained. You will be around for a long time while others may come and go.

  7. ML, you're living 'the journey' (and, thanks to this blog, you allow some of us to live it with you). Many of those reality TV contestants haven't got any particular destination in mind. Loads of media industry workers have what people like you and I would consider to be 'real' money, but they, in turn, are comparing what's in their own wallets (or bank accounts, etc) to what those 'above' them have got - or appear to have. Their journey - which, oddly enought, is similar to the 'journey' of those in the BB house - is a search to establish some sort of place in the world which they haven't yet even thought about, let alone started to reach.

    Sorry, I'm rambling a bit, but your post moved me. You're not 'Come Dine With Me'. Your restaurant is not reality TV show fodder. You've arrived; don't let people you don't even know (or need) hitch a ride.

  8. Hey Miss M,

    Great post & great comments. As I run a music studio, I periodically get contacted by TV companies on the look out for "new talent". If they say they are looking for people with genuine talent who need a break we talk, that's my job, helpin bands & musicians.

    Usually they are looking for potential TV car crashes who they can humiliate. They get told to f*ck off.

    Simple rule, works fine

  9. I've lost count of how many TV and film people have thought I'd be pleased to do stuff for them for free... despite the fact that unlike them I don't have a regular wage. And when being 'for the journey' is used to sell banking products, I know I prefer time travel! Keep on keepin' on!

  10. Finally followed the link from HPANWO to here...and I have only read the first post here...but you write beautifully, and with insight. I look forward to reading more. Isn't reading a blog for the first time like 'going back in time'? You start with today and then work backwards....bizarre!

  11. But then it says that you have to 'approve' the comments...Hmmmmmm....

  12. Anon, thank you for the compliment. Interesting point about going back in time.
    I think most bloggers enable the approve comments facility because you can get a lot of spam. Blogs such as Emerald Bile though publish all the spam which is rather funny.
    I think I've only ever rejected about two comments, when it was obvious they were from somebody I had a personal connection with and who had a particular axe to grind that was nothing to do with the blog.
    After all, one of the great aspects of this type of format is the interactivity. I welcome differing points of views as long as they are either amusingly or politely expressed.
    Hope to read more comments from you...
    Thanks everybody for your comments on this post. It's really heartening.

  13. Been reading you for a while but not sure if I've actually left a comment as of yet. I've had this post open in my browser for some time but without time to actually write anything. Anyway here I am finally!

    Like you I'm pretty fed up with reality type TV shows - what sort of reality is it really showing?! After the first Big Brother - which I did enjoy and find myself getting gripped by - I have found subsequent BBs and other reality shows tedious. But also, I run my own business, it's in a fairly trendy industry where at times you can end up rubbing shoulders with the odd celeb. I've worked hard and long to get here, at times giving up basics of life (like food!) so the business would survive. However since reality TV has shown how easy it is to be a star, I've received endless requests from youngsters barely out of high school and completely inexperienced and underqualified thinking they can step into the limelight via my business because they like doing what we do and their friends say they're good at it. Yeah. Reality. Sure.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post x

  14. Is this comment visible, ML? For some reason whenever I try to access Ms Marmitelover the page crashes! Weird and annoying! It only happens on my home PC.

  15. Thanks for your comments...very encouraging

  16. Good post, ML. I deeply despise Reality TV. That programme you're referring to is one of the worst. One of the other contestants in the house also had to agree to change her name to "Dogface". How many people apart from me can see the inhumanity of that. It shocked me that the contestant's mother came on the show to proudly state that she'd be calling her daughter that in future after she left the house. It's so sinister yet the Great British Public are lapping it up! I've become convinced that TV shows like this have both contributed to behavior like that of the Abu Graib warders, and also the public's lack of reaction to it. "So what if some prisoners have been tortured?" I hear. "They'll be interviewed by Davina McCall next week". We've been indoctrinated by Reality TV and Soap Operas to, in the words of David Halpin, see the intolerable as normal.

    I've just found out what an Aga is, ML. I've heard you talk about it, but never really knew what you meant. Was it really that expensive? I know what a passion you have for cuisine so it must have been worth it for you.

  17. This is exactly why I hate most Tv programmes and newspaper articles... and why I am reading your blog instead.

    It seems so pretentious to think that they can dupe people with a 'journey'. I think people want genuiness above all. We're not stupid!


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