The Shire has built quite a reputation.
It’s created headlines, controversy, local council brouhahas, production headaches, network denials, parodies and online chatter. And that’s before an episode has even aired.
So let’s put all that to one side and try to make sense of what will unravel tonight, without the hysteria or assumptions.
TEN hasn’t given out any previews, citing that editing has been underway right up until the last minute. If those rumours about re-casting and re-tooling are accurate, then that’s probably very likely.
What we do know is that we’ve never seen a local format in this genre for a broad, primetime audience. There’s probably going to be a fair bit of confusion and debate about how this show is made and indeed, whether it should be made. Both of which are legitimate questions.
‘Dramality’ was coined by Mark Burnett for formats that combine Reality and Scripted Drama (soft-scripted is the other term attached to this genre). Macmillan Dictionary says Dramalities satisfy people’s need for a bit of drama in a Reality show.
In the Dramality genre we’ve seen The Hills, Laguna Beach, Jersey Shore, The Only Way is Essex, Real Housewives franchise, Geordie Shore, Made in Chelsea, most of which have aired on Pay TV, plus local shows Freshwater Blue (MTV) and WAG Nation (Arena). In 1992 the BBC / ABC made “soapumentary” Sylvania Waters and turned boisterous mother Noelene Donaher into a household name and SBS recently screened local series The Family -both were fly on the wall series.
TEN returns to Sutherland Shire in southern Sydney for The Shire, and TEN’s Chief Programming Officer David Mott says it will take time for viewers to understand what for most will be their first introduction to a new genre.
“There will be a bit of ‘Is this scripted, is it not scripted?’ Once you get through that and you accept it for what it is, and you’re into the characters then it’s just fantastic television. For all the good and wrong reasons,” he says.
“It’s the characters you love, and the characters you love to hate, and the characters you want to talk about the next day, just like any good television show.
“This kind of show hasn’t been done before so there will be an initial sense of trying to understand the format. But once you get through that, then away we go.
“Big Brother was of its time and this is kind of the free-range version of Big Brother, almost.”
The principal cast of The Shire are all young, with many names that are creative spelling lessons: Mitch, Gabs, Nikee, Tegan, Andy, Kerry, Simon, Michael, Megan, ‘Rif Raf’, Michelka, ‘Spock’, Beckaa, Sophie and Vernessa. They range from surfer, girl next door, glamour model, rock chick, blonde bombshell, lovable larrikin and more.
TEN’s own website even hosts a handy Wiktionary of Shire-isms: “Heaps sick aye / adj. Very good yes” and “Sesh n. An enjoyable event with one or more person.” Who knew? Are they for real, or just taking the piss (adj. lightly mocking someone)?
If viewers have an amused or hostile reaction to some of the characters in the show, that’s intended says Mott.
“This is where you cast a show like you would any Drama series or any Reality show. You’re looking for interesting people with interesting stories to tell and Shine have done an exceptionally good job of this,” he says.
“We’ve got a couple of girls who are beauticians and love the world of Botox. We’ve got Rif Raf who wants to have a music career, we’ve got the girl next door who is in love with a guy called Mitch and we see that play out over a period of time. We’ve got a girl whose Dad absolutely dotes on her.
“So we understand their worlds and follow their lives. They are very much real stories that are shifted in a particular direction.”
“I can tell you now there are some characters in The Shire that will absolutely stand out and there will be a bit of ‘OMG. I can’t believe I’m watching this.’ But you need that in any good storytelling anyway.”
Cast members of The Hills said their show was never scripted, but it did emerge that scenes were ‘staged’ to further storylines. Lauren Conrad told The View a phone call apology made by Spencer Pratt to her, never actually involved her being on the end of the telephone.
The Shire production team includes producers from UK series The Only Way is Essex, but how much is scripted, how much is real, and how much is something in between with Story Producers steering the direction of the content?
“There’s no scripting at all,” Mott insists. “There’s just a world of understanding, where they see their lives and it’s just followed through. This is not unlike Jersey Shore or those sorts of Dramality shows, The Only Way is Essex, The Hills and things like that.
“Certainly there are moments and opportunities where we see the cast, see their storylines going through and we get a sense of what they’re doing. Certain things move into a particular area. But all the events that happen, break-ups and things that happen are absolutely occurring at that time.
“There are also some pieces to camera for exposition.
“There are a few pick-ups that happen to help explain a particular situation, particularly early on just to understand character.”
If Twitter is any indication of audience interest, and it’s no guarantee, then The Shire will launch hugely tonight. TEN has strategically launched the show ahead of Nine’s Big Brother reboot, mindful that it needs the audience to connect with the characters and storyline from the get go. As a new format it’s doubly risky.
“It’s certainly a show for the TEN audience. It is a new format absolutely, a new genre for this market,” Mott acknowledges.
“Look there are some risks that come with that, and I’m the first to say this is not going to be a show for everyone. But what TEN is all about is creating content that is noisy, that does get people talking. And that’s certainly helped by Mayor Carol Provan in the mix.
“It’s (about) creating content that is not ‘least-objectionable.’ It wasn’t that long ago that Programming that was ‘least objectionable’ had a role to play. But it’s less and less now, almost to the point where being on, the bigger the show, the noisier the show, it will stand out.
“And what comes from that is what we call ‘considered risk’ in creating a new genre, a show that has that level of noise.
“What creates noise? Character, storyline, tone, things like that.”
Whether the TEN audience takes to The Shire from the first episode, or spends more time arguing over the methodology or the legitimacy of genre, remains to be seen. If they’re talking about it at all then that’s a good start.
“It’s bold, fun and irreverent, but you just have to accept it for what it is and just enjoy it. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure.”
The Shire airs 8pm Mondays on TEN.