Grounded 

24 August 2009 tbs.pm/1090

BBC News: BBC to investigate daytime show

Yes, it’s another ‘fakery scandal’ rearing its head again, just like the (still) fairly recent events of Crowngate, Sachsgate, etc., that the BBC presumably thought it had finally seen the back of. Having said that, it has been suggested that for each ‘fakery’ exposed there are/were perhaps another two that remain hidden so this shouldn’t be too surprising.

On this occasion it’s an independent production company to blame for this new revelation (Reefgate? Rippongate?), which at least takes the heat off the BBC as well as perhaps giving them brownie points for transparency as an added bonus, although this does still highlight the ongoing issue(s) raised when working with independent producers.

Unfortunately the BBC’s recent approach to stamping out this sort of thing has resulted in a mass of so-called “red tape” engulfing the corporation to the extent that (for example) the presenters of phone-ins cannot read out messages sent in by listeners/viewers without them being checked first by other staff.

And Jonathan Ross’s radio show is now pre-recorded, although this would presumably have now happened anyway even if he hadn’t been involved in any way with that unfortunate Sachsgate incident.

The outcome of this new revelation may now result in even more red tape being applied in another attempt to suffocate spontaneity preserve what’s left of the (dying?) reputation of BBC management, but it also helps to highlight many of the weaknesses of the current crop of reality TV formats.

Ever since television has had a relationship with the so-called “real world” outside of the TV studio, there has been an ongoing problem in relation to the fact that most of this so-called ‘reality’ just isn’t usually all that interesting.

What happens in towns and cities on a day-to-day basis is more often than not fairly boring and mundane by its very nature, and when something interesting does eventually happen for whatever reason, the likelihood of a camera crew being there at exactly the right place and time is very remote.

Therefore it’s no big deal to learn that much of the ‘spontaneity’ that seems to appear on-camera during a television programme is usually pre-arranged if not heavily scripted; for example, that so-called ‘surprise’ home visit from a presenter has to have a camera crew already inside the house in order to show that person initially entering the house.

However the growth of reality TV formats coupled with expanding airtime and shrinking budgets in a competitive environment has really piled on the pressure for TV producers to deliver, and it’s this that has caused any so-called artistic licence to be stretched to breaking point and beyond on several occasions.

All these media-related scandals have essentially ripped up the rule book in relation to what can and can’t be permitted on (and off) air in terms of artistic licence, which in turn has made things even more awkward for TV and radio producers. And that isn’t even considering the increased bureaucracy that has also resulted from previous incidents.

Perhaps all of this really ought to make TV and radio controllers rethink their commissioning strategies from the ground upwards, although this may be difficult when considering the existing constraints that are currently imposed in relation to filling a schedule that delivers in terms of both ratings and cost effectiveness.

The BBC really ought to set an industry-wide example here, but whether anyone will attempt to pay more than lip service to such a practice when they themselves are buried under a mound of compliance paperwork as well as worrying about budget cuts (not to mention their own jobs) remains to be seen.