Get real people off the TV! (Part I)

A few years ago, I was saying the opposite. “More real people on TV please!” Dozens of house-hunting programmes later with ordinary people competing with sewing/cooking/singing and I’ve changed my mind…

I now see the appeal of people trained to perform.

As one with a compulsive house-hunting programme obsession, I rarely miss a showing. But the Escape to the Country one must top the lot.

Shiny, smooth, friendly, tolerant people faced with deadpan voices, estranged couples, chubby, badly dressed real people who’ve made no effort to smarten up for TV… it’s awful.

They shuffle about trying to sound like they know what they’re talking about and just ape the presenters with their catchphrases and slick comments. (See Part II.)

I’ve seen it all. I worked many years at an estate agent showing these people around houses and flats. They all seemed to think they had to contribute something knowledgeable to the viewing.

“Is the attic boarded?” and “Is this a partition wall?” and “I don’t think we’d fit our king-sized bed in here.”

No dearie. You wouldn’t. This cottage was meant for poor people. The builders didn’t envisage young’uns like you with your home-offices and LinkedIn profiles and annual amassing crap living in a humble worker’s cottage like this in 150 years. They had a fire and some tools maybe.

But these people are now on TV. Commenting on the wallpaper and floor tiles of someone else’s house. Making a mess with cake mixture or zips and Velcro. Get off! Go and do all this in the privacy of your own homes.

I want experts on my TV. Reasonably well-dressed, people who’ve bothered to brush their hair and wear clothes that fit. Telling me things they know and I don’t.

It’s a mistake I hope programme producers realise that the ‘docu-drama’ approach is failing. Real people doing real things, God! I wouldn’t sit in my neighbour’s house for an hour watching them just… live.

Glamour. People who’ve been transformed by the make-up artist. People who can speak… Can we just leave it to the professionals? Leave the rest of us at home on this side of the camera. That’s where we belong.

The experiment’s over. The findings are: it didn’t work.


Where’s Bogdan? Why we like the TV meerkats…

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It’s a bit like ‘Where’s Wally?’ Locating something interesting and different in the mire of American-dominated children’s TV. I’m not helping make myself any more popular with them over the sea but I have to speak.

The TV meerkats are currently in my top ten of personalities I’d like to get to know. Their mysterious culture, their serious faces and grave humour make them a serious contenders for personality of the year.

They look after their old and are tender with their young.

Even their broken English, their hobbies and histories are refreshingly captivating. They have philosophy and you get the feeling they’re quietly erudite. Which makes them a highly attractive alternative to… the Americans.

No doubt we get the worst impression of America. The media they export (though I hear they export their best) has a strong cultural message which is foreign to us and the mania for consumption that has escalated here over the last 25 years here is (I think) American.

Pop Girl channel with its endless spool of teen TV programmes (which I’m subjected to every day now) consists almost uniquely of U.S. programmes.

The California-tanned beauties and their fit, virile male friends make tedious watching. They snack on leaves and fruit (hah!) and fight for environmental issues, justice and stand up for the small guy.

Their staccato talk (do they really talk in those nasal, whiny voices?) and tales with morals are written (and acted) to a formula. Are we to take these kids seriously when they promote honesty or loyalty?

And I see the same facial expressions, same body gestures and inflection… (we end up watching the same stories with different actors in them. Someone invariably spits out food or has a food fight; someone will adopt that cocky expression and say, ‘Oh really?’ Someone else will frown-smile and say, ‘Okaaayyyy…’ to denote the weirdness of someone else. Yawn…

Now the meerkats… they’re wholesome and seem beautifully unaware of how to present themselves globally. Blissfully un-photogenic and with no idea of what ‘cool’ is, (“Who’s this cool?”) the entire family is clearly lacking any PR exercises. Unattractive (even baby Oleg isn’t pretty), foreign and with no sense of what we in the west are used to, it goes to show we’re capable of accepting the new and peculiar.

One of the most peculiar characteristics is that (I’ve just learned) meerkats are native to south Africa yet they have strongly eastern European accents… Some dark and interesting evolutionary/ancestral episode no doubt.

They feel like creatures I’d like to have in my close circle of friends. They could teach me new things and help me solve problems in new ways.

They wouldn’t understand our desire for buy-to-let or fast food; you get the feeling they walk five miles to the village for bread and have things like smoked tomatoes and pickled apple for supper (they’re all very trim you’ll notice).

Their TV marketing campaigns would be innocent and plain. The moustached chap with the village hardware store – proud of having secured a TV commercial after having been on the list for 15 years – might advertise his shop’s dinner service by smiling widely at the camera with a slogan like, ‘Buy my jugs and pots – they’re very useful!’

No, I don’t want to adopt a toy or buy a book and I wouldn’t want them to have a series. But credit to the creator of these fully formed and novel personalities.

As a backlash against the eternal flow of US culture (we in the UK now have ads directly imported from the US – no editing for the UK market), with its uniform outpouring of values and moralising, the meerkats remind us of the diversity that lies beyond the States. And the value in that diversity.

(Oh God that last line sounded a lot like preaching and moralising… it’s catching I swear…)