Clothes on or clothes off? It seems that boadcasters can’t make up their minds.
Listening to the factual commissioners speaking at Sheffield Doc/Fest this year, there’s a shift towards more aspirational programming. But there’s also a string of commissions coming through where there’s a theme of getting naked and back to basics.
Channel 5 director of programmes Ben Frow signalled a move from benefits to beautiful homes, citing Eamonn & Ruth: How the Other Half Lives. We saw a preview of The Garden’s new BBC series fronted by Anne Robinson looking at how people spend. “Moving out of the recession, Britain’s spending has never been so fascinating,” says the show’s press release.
Meanwhile, there are still a number of productions coming through that show the hand of The Island and the demand for going back to basics. Lucy Leveugle, Channel 4 factual entertainment commissioning editor showed a clip from Princess Productions’ Life Stripped Bare, where contributors are stripped of everything (including their clothes) and then allowed to redeem one item a day. Channel 5 has commissioned Naked Entertainment for four parts of Stripped and Stranded, taking fraught families to an island off Panama.
Channel 4 also showed a preview of its new naked dating show from Studio Lambert where contestants get to pick a date by looking at genitalia.
But the move towards exposure is more than on screen nudity and taking creature comforts away from contributors. The layers have been coming off every year. Whatever the show is about, it should speak for itself. It should be authentic, real, peeled back. Audiences want presenters to reveal something about themselves as part of their passion for a subject. Crews have been encouraged to lose the protection of the lens and get in front of the camera.
Channel Five declared its commitment to the straight-forward down-the-lens approach taken by Knickerbockerglory’s I’m An Alcoholic: My Name Is. “These were great people with great stories,” says Ben Frow. “No reconstruction, no actuality, just straight down the lens, stripping away all the stuff around it and doing simple television.”
Of course, simplicity relies on contributors and producers getting amazing, no-holds-barred access and ‘casting’ compelling characters. Despite, and maybe because of, the media savvy public, producers are continuing to get the most extraordinary access. Sky announced its up-coming obdoc on the Freemasons, through Emporium Productions and Channel 5 and Maroon Productions have handed cameras to London gangs for Inside the Gang.
Whether the show is stripped-back survival or aspirational surfeit, the realistic, down-to-earth feel of documentary, once referred to as ‘gritty’ is now shot through all kinds of factual TV.
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