Thursday, February 12, 2004

Builder’s-labourer-ploitation TV

Melbourne TV critic Ross Warneke is one of those people who is repeatedly able to get things 100% dead wrong. Like his opinion of Ten’s “CrashBurn” (1993) for example. Last week, he was blithely (or is he just a publicist’s whore?) predicting the ratings success of “The HotHouse” (also on Ten).

I assume that Warneke’s deadline was at least one-and-a-half days before his Wednesday midnight going to press, thus giving him ample time to digest Monday night’s (show premiere) ratings figures. For whatever reason, he ignored the abundant writing on the wall here – and even if he thought that one night’s ratings were all a bit too summary, he could have at least acknowledged that on the same “The HotHouse”-premiere Monday, the show’s executive producer and co-executive producer, Eric Dwyer both quit the show. The best Warneke could do however, was to pen this belated and prolix mea culpa, which went to press last night.

That “The HotHouse” is a dog is indisputable. Its first core problem (which Warneke naturally misses) is that it lacks a format – aka the thing that reality TV (or “unscripted drama”, if you prefer) has in place of a script. Simply piling white trash, two-by-two, into caravans in an outer suburb of Brisbane, and making them work like navvies is NOT a format. Similarly, conflict (and the abundance thereof) does not equal character.

Although Jonas at 85 George Street seems to take a similarly dim view of “The HotHouse” and “The Resort” (which premiered last night, on Ten again), I’m willing to go out on a limb and say “The Resort” looks a whole lot better than its stable-mate. I share Jonas’s concerns about builder’s-labourer reality TV (invariably “employing” under-40’s only) being prima facie exploitative, and, for this reason, “The Resort” also appeals to me on ethical grounds, certainly in comparison. All the contestants seem to be going for in this show is a 3-month contract, managerial job (albeit with a slice of the profits thrown in) – compared with the highly-dubious accounting assumptions behind “The HotHouse’s” “guaranteed $2 million prize.” In other words, the pissier the prize, the more the show’s contestants will be looking to find value elsewhere – which is presumably the reason ex AFL-player (and therefore minimum B-celebrity) and qualified journo* Aaron Lord has fronted-up for “The Resort”.

As to what exactly is the “The Resort’s” format, I am not sure yet (I doubt that the show’s producers are, either). One thing which – very surprisingly, IMO – worked last night was show host Jon Stevens playing a sort of agent provocateur role; a character semi-“in” the drama, as well as being the obligatory set of shiny teeth giving anthropologist-style omniscient voiceovers to camera. It’s a lot more sophisticated than months-old footage of “The HotHouse’s” host Erika reading editorial summations from her autocue.

This lack of real-time awareness in “The HotHouse” is the show’s other core problem. With everything now being “in the box” (apart from, presumably, the clinching finale between the final two couples), the show is now both an editorial nightmare for Ten to try to speed-up as a ratings salvager, and an already visibly-stale offering to the viewers. Whatever Ten chooses to do here, a ground-up re-shoot surely can’t be an option, despite what journo Amanda “Evict them all” Meade appears to suggest.

Update 19 February 2004

“The HotHouse” is NOT “in the can” – it is, more or less, real-time. In saying that it was not real-time, above, I was relying on this Daily Telegraph report, which referred to filming being finished just before the show’s broadcast commenced.

* Not to mention an insanely-hunky man-magnet.

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