What an embarrassing comment on the state of Australian television says Adam Spencer in the Sydney Morning Herald May 3rd 2014. Referring to the enormous audience delivered by Channel 7’s juggernaut My Kitchen Rules on it’s final episode, combined with the announcement that the winner of the Gold Logie at the 2014 Logie Awards was Scott Cam, a tradesman turned television star, Spencer laments that the nation is facing a cultural crisis.
With respect Adam, I was one of the 3.7 million people tuning in to see if the “good” Mums Bree & Jess could defeat the “nasty” buddies Chloe & Kelly. In a defining victory for good over evil, based on personality traits that were significantly enhanced by casting and editing, Bree & Jess took out the title of MKR Champs and walked away with $250,000. I had missed barely a moment of the entire season. Choosing to postpone commencing fresh series of Game of Thrones, Mad Men and a complete set of True Detective.
Why? First and foremost because I wanted to switch my brain off. I also wanted to get inspired to ramp up the culinary skills in my own kitchen, because frankly mine doesn’t rule. My Kitchen Rules, like most reality television programming is focused not so much on the premise of the show – cooking, but the relationships between the characters. Every story needs conflict to be interesting, MKR favours relationships over recipes, and there is a smorgasbord of superior cooking shows out there if you purely want to learn to cook.
But if you want to put your feet up at the end of a long day and watch a bit of something with your kids that is perfectly harmless then I can’t think of a better show. This TV consumption goes hand in hand with reading together, doing spelling and mathematics homework and educational apps on the iPad. It’s a great opportunity to be together as a family when so many of us are inclined to go our separate ways to individual screens.
It also allows our six year old daughter to learn about people’s behaviour under pressure, their determination in pursuit of their goals, and about respect (or lack of it) for others. This season we felt the portrayal of the two girls from WA as villains was overdone, and detracted from the overall enjoyment of the viewing. But to lump it under a banner of “dross” – “worthless, rubbish” is just as extreme.
How about all the hard working people who create the show? Should they be judged as creators of rubbish because the show fails to meet your measurement of high art?
Or in the case of The Block, Adam have you noticed this country’s obsession with the real estate market? I would say that in respect to our property fixation, then any show that features renovating is as culturally relevant as you could ask for.
In general I’m not a fan of reality television, ( or quality formatting of my blog posts). Anyone who may have paid attention to my own two decade long career in broadcasting would know that ten years ago my life became very much unstuck as a result of a poorly conceived and dangerously executed project for subscription television. I also feel my years chalked up in the profession (if you can call “being on television” a profession) are constantly under threat from the waves of fresh faces who burst from our small screens to become household names as quickly as they are forgotten.
From Australian Idol, to Masterchef, The Voice to Big Brother, it’s easy to name a dozen or so contestants who went on to enjoy anything more than fleeting notoriety, but what of the tens of thousands left by the wayside. My guess is that most of them enjoyed a moment or two in the sun and countless thousands more viewers just like me had a top time dissecting their performances in our lounge rooms.
Television exists primarily for advertising and entertainment. We are also blessed to have consistently high standards of television journalism in this country alongside brilliant documentary series, outstanding drama and fantastic comedy. And Housos. (Just kidding Fenech.)
But just like the Australian music business or the local film industry, every single piece produced can’t be phenomenal.
Spencer references Top of the Lake as an example of courageous programming across the Tasman. Given that the show is produced by three entities – BBC2 – funded by the English TV license system, UKTV a Foxtel channel funded by subscribers, and Sundance Channel, also subscriber funded – then it seems that the only broadcasting service “brave” enough to make “quality” shows is one that people are prepared to pay for.
My favourite shows in the past ten years or so (since The Sopranos and The Wire came along) have all come from HBO, AMC or now Netflix.
As an avid supporter of the Sydney Swans Football Club, Spencer would do well to note that most of us footy fans enjoy the game from the comfort of our couches every round thanks to the generous support of FTA TV. Made possible because it’s profitable. Many would consider footy to be rubbish, a bunch of boofheads running around doing the same thing week in week out season after season until their bodies give out on them and they open a sporting goods store or become embroiled in a petty saga.
AFL is available for free – thanks to the same commercial free to air channel that hosts MKR. Or for a premium it’s available ad free “siren to siren” on Foxtel where you can ot only watch every single game every single round, but record it, pause it and enjoy around the clock commentary on the state of the game.
Commercial TV is just that – concerned with commerce, intending to make a profit. In other words, our broadcasters outside the ABC are businesses that exist purely for profit generated by revenue from advertisers. Cultural priorities are not part of their DNA.
Then again, as Ray Meager put it at the Logie Awards, Home and Away is one of this country’s most successful exports, so maybe they do have one eye on the cultural barometer.
Where I do agree with Adam is that we need to keep telling great stories.
Over to you Australia.