Reality Check

Tom Ballard strikes a good balance in ABC's Gruen-like look at Reality. But why stop there?

rchkOf all the Entertainment shows that turn their lens on the television tube itself, Reality Check strikes the best balance so far. TV Burp, The Joy of Sets, TV TV were trumped by ABC’s new panel show that has fun with the Reality television genre. There were laughs, there was learning, there was love and there was a little loathing.

While I would personally prefer something that drilled a little deeper than landing on a punchline, I recognise that to have ongoing success the show needs to hit a broad audience. It did this very well. Ballard was likeable in the host chair, relaxed and having fun without being too negative at the genre. But Wil Anderson should probably send him an invoice. The show was the Gruen you have when you’re not having Gruen. Given it comes from Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder, I guess that’s their prerogative.

Discussing pre-recorded finales was a topical idea, given many viewers would have been unaware The Voice: Kids had filmed three endings. It was interesting to hear discussion about whether this elicited a more honest outcome with children over adults, and the value of having extended 3 hour finales. But they neglected to mention this particular show was also accommodating the schedule of its international coach, Mel B. She also appeared in a clip of America’s Got Talent, which would have been a great chance for an entire segment on Mel B. -cast by the very network that had to foot her legal bills.

Andrew Shaw fessing up that applying a cattle prod to dull cast members (he even dropped in the word “journey”) and Marion Farrelly’s analysis of two MasterChef finales -up close vs wideshot- was also food for thought.

Having Julie Goodwin as a first guest was a clever casting choice for the first episode. While her colleagues defended creative decisions, Goodwin cut through the politics. “I would bake him a lasagna,” she said of The Bachelor‘s hunky Blake Garvey.

I must confess I did not buy Farrelly’s line about wanting Celebrity Apprentice contestants to simply be happy. At all. If you have happy contestants you have no drama. It simply did not fit with conversations I have had with Reality participants furious over being woken up early, kept waiting for hours, given little in the way of refreshments, and had their challenges undermined just as the cameras begin to roll. It’s a major Trick of the Trade, people.

The Real or Fake segment was playful, but certainly no substitute for Gruen‘s The Pitch. The show could also benefit from having one guest more critical of the genre. Gruen‘s strength was that Todd Sampson and Russel Howcroft were a fantastic yin and yang, arguing old and new approaches to advertising. It was always easy to be torn by two compelling arguments, much like Margaret and David. This show could accommodate a little more guest debate where it is genuine. Get me Gretel Killeen, pronto.

I also think ABC needs to take a stick to some of their own shows pretty quick smart (hey, you started it with Sylvania Waters after all). Aunty happily imports reality shows for ABC2 -and this week even debuted its own with Back Seat Drivers. Why isn’t anybody talking about whether the show can be authentic when passengers are signing release forms before they hop into the back seat? Does this affect their “fly on the wall” conversation? Discuss.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by Reality Check, and I’ll be back for more. But my biggest regret is that its remit is a single genre. I sort of wish it had widened from Reality to Television itself.

We need a smart, funny, insightful show about the medium as a whole.

Then we could talk about how Seven killed A Place to Call Home with unsatisfying storylines, why Offspring has wrapped things up when it is a hit show, why networks are running shows overtime, why Sport is played in Standard Definition instead of High Definition, how you can manipulate media headlines by coding your show and why OzTAM never does anything about it, why playing NZ content can prop up your local drama, why Community TV is worth hanging onto, why commercial TV is too gutless to spend real money on scripted comedy, piracy and the impact on the industry, why Foxtel fast-tracks some shows and not others, whether the ABC rebranding is a waste of money, why The Australian hates the ABC, whether we should all buy new FreeviewPlus sets, whether social media is just too bloody negative and why we don’t have Gruen back this year when ABC told us we would.

Oh wait. We have blogs for that.

Reality Check airs 9pm Wednesdays on ABC.

13 Responses

  1. Wasn’t expecting much but enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.
    Not bad at all but agree it needs to have more in depth analysis than just skimming the surface as it appeared to do last night.
    Not a fan of Tom but he came across as less annoying than he usually is.

  2. I think I must have been watching a different show. It is a train wreck. The set is cramped and dull and the experts too self interested to bring any interesting insights to the subject. Ballard is congenial but with none of the edge or attitude which Will Anderson brought to Gruen. It desperately needed another panel member with a critical point of view to generate some conflict which would also allow the panel seating to be reconfigured. Shooting a non broadcast pilot may have helped to reveal how half baked this concept is and what kind of show you could groom for an audience which watches the ABC as an escape from the reality genre. It will join a now very long and expensive list of failed entertainment shows and Mark Scott should be asking the Head of TV just what he was thinking.

  3. I really liked it!
    First up: I’m a big reality fan and seconally, I’m a big tom Ballard fan. It’s as if the show was made just for me!

    I think they’ll warm into it a little, everyone is always so quick to bag a show on its first ep. Just give them a chance.

  4. I thought the show was ok. The shots to the audience was a bit weird and distracting.

    I think I prefer Tom, not to try so hard to make a joke. It was sometimes annoying, as I was thinking I get the joke, its not that funny.

  5. I thought this was great, Tom was a natural as host (a bit of a cross between Will Anderson and Adam Hills) and the panellists were strong and interesting. Gotta love Julie Goodwin. A good double with Utopia!

  6. I thought Ballard was OK. He will settle into the role a bit more. I think the host should be a fan of reality TV but I agrre that they need more diverse discussion. It is a genre that polarises so it it should be more fiery. Gretel is an inspired choice David. I hope they listen. I liked it a lot though and will definitely tune in. Who doesn’t love Julie Goodwin anyway.

  7. Personally I was disappointed. At best it felt like a glorified clip show and weekly wrap of what’s going on in reality tv. Those who love the genre would already know what’s happened, and those who dislike it wouldn’t care and would’ve been waiting for the boot to be put in…which unfortunately never happened. I didn’t get much insight from the panel at all and to me it felt like there were too many gags and too much “let’s pat ourselves on the back, look how clever we are”. The bigger issues that go to the heart of the base nature of reality tv were completely side stepped. How could they look at the voice kids and not talk about the exploitative nature of the genre? I got no sense of the inside workings of reality, the almost unethical contracts contestants are forced to sign, the impact of participation on the lives of the contestants, the way contestants are edited to serve…

  8. I thought it was interesting too. But I’m not sure it has legs – there’s only so much insight they can relate about what is pretty one dimensional TV before they’re reduced to showing more and more absurd clips from overseas…

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