Saturday, February 02, 2008

The most unreal thing about Reality TV

Caught the last half an hour of "The Choir" last night. It's not a bad idea. Charismatic young choirmaster attempts to persuade a bunch of cripplingly inhibited teenage boys at a school (which has somehow attracted the addendum "sports college") that they can sing. He tries to coax the ones with talent to take lessons, he tries to persuade the more musically inclined ones to sing un-self-consciously at each other; to the rest he simply points out that if they sing "nobody dies".
Near the end he is getting discouraged by their mulish insistence that singing is "boring" or "gay". (How this chimes with the government's "come and work with the most exciting people in the world" teacher recruitment campaign I do not know.)
To gain encouragement he goes to visit another school where choral singing is hugely popular. The BBC can't be seen to mention the fact that this one is some form of selective school but it smelled like that to me.
Anyway, the last five minutes featured him waiting in the hall to sign up volunteers to join his choir. At first he was on his own, contemplating the failure of his project. I looked at the clock. Two minutes air time to go. They clearly weren't going to leave it like this.
Sure enough. One boy turned up to volunteer. Then another. Then a few more. Then yet more until there was a queue of shiny-faced adolescents begging to join. He ended up with, if memory serves, 170 names. "I can't believe it," he blushed. Well, nor could we. There had clearly been some major manipulation that we didn't see to bring about this very televisual resolution.
Many things betray the credibility of reality television but the thing that really gives it the lie is the fact that IT ALWAYS WORKS OUT IN THE END.
You can see "The Choir" here.


  1. Anonymous10:39 am

    Lovely show, but ditto in the first run - the faux-tension cliffhanger moment around halfway through the series was the harry potter-style choirmaster opening the letter in front of his pupils to discover whether they had got a place at the prestigious Chopir Olympics in China. The rest of the series would have been a bit of a damp squib if the letter had said they weren't good enough...

    For that matter though, if you'd been watching Derren Brown's much-trailed betting system on the other side at the same time that had a pretty inevitable 'twist' at the end too - the punter who "risks" her life savings on a horse race was never ever going to lose – the narrative arc of reality tv just would not allow it.

  2. Anonymous1:21 pm

    As an FYI about the 'sports college' business it's a DfES initiative to give schools specialisms (or was before they became the DCSF). Personally I'm not convinced that a 'sports college' will, or even should, guarantee to turn out sportier children than any other school. Here's the skinny form the government site

  3. Anonymous12:35 pm

    I have inside knowledge on this program - my kids are in it.
    Shock horror: The scene where Gareth sits alone in the hall waiting was "faked" in that it was filmed after school.

  4. Anonymous8:42 am

    Little harsh on The Choir, it's reality TV, half of it is always going to be staged. The important thing is the final - the aspect they can't fake. Last year they didn't win but the message that it's about the taking part made it all worthwhile. Not groundbreaking stuff but better than yer average Wife Swap.

  5. Anonymous2:39 pm

    The first series of the Choir was really enjoyable and uplifting, and I think this one will be as compulsory. OF COURSE the bit at the end was rigged - who bloody cares? It threw us all nicely, at least for a moment, and the BBC should make no apology for adding such drama.

    The Guildford County School is not selective, though it is a "Specialist Music College" so we're not comparing apples here.

    As an aside, I cannot see the purpose of "specialist" schools. If a talented musician or sportsman who lives outside the catchment or doesn't attend a feeder school, how do they get into their nearest school for their 'specialism'? All specialist schools should be selective.

  6. So if half of it is going to be stage why don't they say so? Little disclaimer at the beginning, like they use to warn us of flash photography. "Half of the programme that follows has been choreographed to make a tidier narrative."
    I'm sorry. I'm not persuaded. Five minutes from the end we, the poor bovine viewers, were asked to buy into the idea that there was some uncertainty about the outcome. Meanwhile the producer was outside the hall door trying to keep 100 plus eager kids quiet.

  7. I do object to this. This is presumably billed as a documentary - why is it acceptable or indeed necessary to inject faked 'drama'? If the setup is good enough, which it sounds like it should be, then shouldn't that be enough to sustain an audiences interest. Has this always gone on or is it a recent addition to a TV makers arsenal? Are we merely just more sensitive these days to the ways in which television can lie to us?