It was the TV show everyone was talking about. An authentic slice of British people and opinion. An extension of the latest craze in telly land for real people doing real things. It was such a success that the format’s been sold in China and currently being negotiated in America.
Gogglebox, from Channel 4, saw a cast of normal British couples, families and friends in their own living rooms watching TV. Cameras were installed and we just watched their reactions. On paper, it sounds bonkers., another nail in the coffin of reality TV. In fact, it almost reads like a satire, a send up of Big Brother-type shows where we watch people living their lives while living our own. What could be more ridiculous than watching people on TV, watching TV?
Yet what emerged was a funny, warm and insightful serving of the most addictive television. This wasn’t just funny in the sense of the odd smirk here or there, there were full belly laughs, such as the moment a B&B owning couple fell over along with their “very expensive” couch.
It was more than just a good laugh, though. While each household watched the same programmes each other and us cutting between them, one of the highlights when used sparingly was when they would watch the news and give their opinion of current events. Then, the faceless British public would suddenly get a voice, muting the screeching of tabloid headlines and opening a window into the homes and opinions of real people.
The popularity of this shouldn’t surprise. The characters are great and the show feels natural. Viewers are arguably weary of shows where it looks as though the production team have had a firm hand in events. We want to be a fly on the wall of authentic life. It’s why we love 24 Hours in A&E, One Born Every Minute and Benefits Street, a show that, while controversial, has had millions eagerly tuning in every week.
In fact, there’s a slew of shows in the pipeline along the same vein. The Pawn Shop has exclusive access to high-end pawn broking, focusing on a Surrey based outfit trading in everything from Ferraris to helicopters. 24 Hours in Custody will follow Luton Police. Watermen, this time on BBC Two, will follow one of the largest companies in the UK, United Utilities, after the channel broadcast a documentary series following the inner workings of British supermarket chain Iceland during the horsemeat scandal.
“If the cameras were off, they’d still be doing it”. That’s the goal. That’s what we want to watch. Real, amazing things happening to real, amazing characters. Trends come and go, however. When will the peak be for these shows?