New tech will drive reality TV

The Island with Bear GryllsNew filming technology has been singled out as a central factor driving the development of the reality TV sector.

Television executives talked about the flexibility of technology like GoPro cameras, at a panel discussion dubbed The Reality of Reality TV which was hosted by RTS Futures, part of the Royal Television Society, in central London on Monday 5 September.

“Technology really does drive what you can do,” said Philip McCreery, a series producer who has worked on The Island with Bear Grylls (pictured), First Dates and 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy.

While the latest tech can help production teams push the boundaries of the footage they can capture for reality TV shows, the panel also discussed the issue of duty of care in relation to a show’s cast. 

The Island with Bear Grylls is particularly notable for using ‘embedded’ cameras, where the action is filmed by camera operators who are part of the cast and live in the same conditions. In a recent series of The Island, one of the camera operators slipped on a coastal rock and had to be evacuated when he slashed a tendon in his arm.

“We have a safety team that’s never more than two hours away,” McCreery said. “But it’s not always obvious exactly where on the island the cast is if they run into difficulties. The whole idea is to put them on the island and let them do what they want – that particular injury was the result of doing something that was ‘off-task’.”

McCreery added that The Island had been filming at the same time as the last accident-prone series of winter sports show The Jump, so he and his colleagues had to field constant phone calls from nervous Channel 4 executives.

I'm A Celebrity

Duty of care extends to animal cast members too, especially on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!. 

“We had one episode where a snake mistook Shaun Ryder’s hand for a furry rat and bit him, but then refused to let go,” said Becky Crosthwaite, who has developed new formats and games for a range of reality shows.

“The welfare of the animals is a top priority for us on that show so we had to remove the snake from Shaun’s hand while making make it was okay. Luckily Ryder didn’t panic and we were actually able to turn the incident into a good story.”

The panel also focussed on the importance of good casting and agreed that the popularity of reality TV hinges on relationships. Tech may drive the future of the genre, but the panel was in agreement that dramatic relationships will remain at its heart. 

Naked Attraction“You want people who are happy talking all about themselves and are happy treating the experience as a therapy session,” said Coco Jackson, a researcher with experience of casting reality shows.

“There can be a high drop-out rate for shows like Naked Attraction (pictured), where the initial casting call was vague and then people realised they were being asked to be naked on-screen.”

“The worse the relationships between the cast members, the better!” said Craig Orr, director of commissioning and development for MTV International, whose shows include Geordie Shore and Ex On The Beach. 

“Over time you figure out what approaches will get the best material and you weed out the real people in the casting process. A lot of people claim to be ‘totally mad’ and ‘the biggest player in town’ but you can get to the truth by spending another ten minutes talking to them.” 

The role of the production team in steering the narratives of reality TV was emphasised during the panel discussion.

“People forget these shows are heavily produced,” said Crosthwaite. “If the cast of Love Island suddenly ‘decide’ to play Truth Or Dare, it’s because we’ve asked them to. You can also suggest a lot with the voiceover and through the use of music, while talking to channel executives about specifically what you can and can’t show in any given episode.”

Images: The Island with Bear Grylls and Naked Attraction - Channel 4. I'm A Celebrity - ITV 


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