Anna Potter, Communications Lecturer, University of the Sunshine Coast.
Anna Potter, Communications Lecturer, University of the Sunshine Coast. Contributed

Portraying Australian-ness in reality TV is paying off

DON'T you think that it's strange, that Big Brother is watching? Australian television viewers don't think so.

More than 1.5 million people tuned in to watch the Big Brother season nine launch show and 10th season is locked in for 2013.

As the fly-on-the-wall reality series heads into its final week, so ends the cycle of another reality television show.

Whether it is a bake-off, a weight-loss challenge, bad kids turned good or a fashionista design battle, reality television shows continue to hook viewers.

Television cameras are making their way into almost every facet of society across the globe.

George Baramily pictured during his Big Brother eviction with host Sonia Kruger.
George Baramily pictured during his Big Brother eviction with host Sonia Kruger. Paul Broben - Channel 9

Take Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Too Fat for 15, Toddlers and Tiaras or World's Strictest Parents for example.

University of the Sunshine Coast communications lecturer Anna Potter is putting the final touches on her research paper looking at the extraordinary ratings success of the Australian version of The Voice.

She said the talent quest show heralded the return of the water-cooler television programs - a "big stadium" format which rates well in Australia.

Dr Potter said The Voice attracted three million viewers for Channel Nine in its first weeks in a market already flooded with reality and talent quest television.

"It pioneered a new type of talent quest and versions of it are being made in 48 countries, so we were curious about how it became so successful in Australia - particularly the way it uses celebrities to appeal to audiences," Dr Potter said.

"One answer appeared to be its cultural specificity, portraying Australian-ness through its choice of 50% Australian judges and quintessentially Australian contestants, while still conforming to the trans-national format."

But what types of reality programs get Australian viewers tuning in week after week?

"There are two main types of reality television formats: the stadium shows and the ordinary people shows. "Networks pay top dollar for stadium shows, but they get the numbers," Dr Potter said.

"Shows about ordinary people such as World's Strictest Parents are much more niche but they also bring in the audience, but it's not the giant water-cooler TV that everyone is talking about the next day."

Dr Potter said the globalisation of television is seeing the same formats re-created throughout the world.

"We used to call the format the production bible. Networks are buying the rights to the look and brand of the show, it's like setting up a franchise almost."

High-rating stadium shows are becoming the staple of Australian television networks in a time of uncertainty.

But not all reality television shows hit the mark.

Channel 10 is still haunted by the failure of The Shire, The Renovators and Everybody Dance Now.

The dance show disaster was canned after four episodes, unable to attract even 400,000 viewers, meagre in TV rating terms.

To put it simply, Dr Potter said, Australian audiences will not sit and watch rubbish.

She said viewers were always looking for a character story line - a "pull-at-the-heart-strings" story.

"Viewers are increasingly becoming attached to the characters and players in reality television shows.

Producers work really hard at manufacturing a story out of the contestants," Dr Potter said.

"People respond to a transformation story. Take Undercover Boss for example. It's all a formula, but we love it.

"We love them getting redemption and transforming and giving away holidays to these poor struggling people."

This unbridled publicity often seeing the newfound celebrities leveraging off their 15 minutes of fame.

Some have the staying power, others....well they go back to being the everyday ordinary people, tuning into the next reality show to come along.

TV Tonight's David Knox has already suggested that Sunday night's evictee Stacey Wren is headed for a career in radio.

She will follow in the footsteps of Ryan "Fitzy" Fitzgerald and now-television personality Chrissie Swan.

As Australia continues on its reality television crusade, the next serving comes in the form of a celebrity diving show called Celebrity Splash.

Channel Seven won the battle between the Australian networks to air the show in their 2013 schedule.

A re-creation of a Dutch reality program, celebrities will learn how to dive.They've cooked, lost weight, lived in a house and danced. Now they will dive.Where do we go from here? Celebrity quilting?

MasterChef's Top 5 contestant Ben Milbourne.
MasterChef's Top 5 contestant Ben Milbourne. Stuart Bryce - Network Ten

IN the digital age, the internet is becoming the second home to reality television.

Programs are multi-platformed and producers are leveraging off the popularity of social media.

Reality Ravings, Australia's leading reality TV blog, satisfies viewers' cravings for a good gab session.

Blog founder Emma Ashton created the site as a hobby in 2007 and its following grew since the first season of Masterchef Australia.

"People have so many opinions on reality TV and the people on them, this is especially when the formats include any type of elimination or voting," Ms Ashton said.

"Through social media and blogs, people have been able to connect with others who are of like minds and who have a common interest.

"A large number of people are online and that is a second screen: while they are watching the reality television.

"This is beneficial for networks as it means fans try and watch the show live to ensure they can join in the conversation."

Ms Ashton said viewers liked to connect with other "real" people.

"We like seeing the transformation that is occurring both on and off screen," she said.

"For all the criticisms the genre has attracted over the years, there has been some amazing talent discovered through these shows.

"The most raved about programs include Masterchef Australia, My Kitchen Rules and Big Brother.

"It is difficult to get bored because there is a constant parade of new people on our screens to like or dislike and talk about, it's the modern day vaudeville with the heroes and villains," Ms Ashton said.

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