Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Constructed Reality: The Script

A producer, writer and a TV exec are shooting the breeze and talking about TV in general after a meeting in which writer is being told that there’s no money to make his well-written, carefully observed sitcom. The Producer leaves for another meeting, while writer remains behind, unsure of protocol.

Exec leans back and stretches.

Exec: So tonight, it’s the big show.

Writer: Big show?

Exec: Masterchef.

Writer: Oh.

Exec: Not a fan?

Writer: (shrugs) I like food. And competitions. Just not sure I want to see it on television?

Exec: Ha, ha, ha. (Beat) Seriously?

Writer: Also, you can’t taste what they’ve made, so the key experience is missing. Like porn with very bad lighting.

Exec: Ha! That lighting is hard to get right.

Writer: I’m sorry?

Exec: (Cough) The point is that this is event TV. Unmissable. Insanely popular. Sitcom is all very well, but this is Reality.

Writer: Is it? But is the entire thing not total artifice? When do total strangers normally cook competitively with each other and then told off on national TV for not sufficiently devilling the kidneys?

Exec: Okay, fair enough. But the people are genuine.

Writer: They are, but they’re carefully chosen.

Exec: Yeah, and it’s really important that the casting is right.

Writer: You just called it casting.

Exec: No I didn’t. Beside, everyone know it’s not real reality. But some kind of…

Writer: Fake reality?

Exec: It’s not fake. Anymore. A lot of my close personal friends had to resign over that. Some of them were out of work for several weeks.

Writer: Sorry.

Exec: It’s called Constructed Reality.

Writer: Ha. It’s funny what TV does to you, isn’t it? I mean, it makes you say things like ‘Constructed Reality’ without laughing straight away afterwards.

Exec: (Beat) Why would you laugh?

Writer: Well,… because… No reason.

Exec: The other trick is spending enough on promoting the thing.

Writer: Really?

Exec: Hell, yeah. They really have to make it count because it’s not cheap to make. These celeb judges cost a fortune, and you should see the riders these people insist on. Plus the bespoke tense music. That’s pricey. And then the advertising.

Writer: Advertising?

Exec: Yeah. If you’re shelling out that kind of money, you have to make sure you’re getting bums and eyeballs.

Writer: I thought you said it was insanely popular.

Exec: It is. It is. It’s just sometimes you have to remind people how popular it is.

Writer: I see that.

Exec: Plus you have to get it all on the first showing and the cheap spin-off discussion show afterwards. You can’t repeat this stuff, or sell it on DVD. You get peanuts for re-runs on UK Food 3: Leftovers. We tried ‘Masterchef: Reheated’ but it just didn’t fly. It’s not like you can show it again and again forever like Blackadder or the Vicar of Dibley or those, you know…

Writer: Sitcoms?

Exec: Yeah, whatever. Listen, I have to go. It’s a celeb restaurant opening. I’ll try and steal you some bread rolls.

Exeunt. (Exec via door. Writer via 4th floor window)

Dissolve to several months later. BBC4 shows comedy biopic of sitcom writer who jumps from 4th floor window.


  1. Hmm, we all seem to be descending into a pit full of Constructed Reality dating/cooking/DIY/antique/'talent' shows. Or a combination of all of them in one show (Channel 5 will do this, I promise). Less room for quality. Ah well, at least Charlie Brooker will have more ammunition for his future work.

  2. Having read James' piece above I am now rather ashamed to admit that I like Masterchef. I love eating but hate cooking and MC's appeal for me is to see people with such an all-consuming passion for doing something that I loathe to.

    Daft music, over-long pauses before result announcing, selective editing (I realise all editing is selective), all these things aside, Masterchef deserves its prime-time slot. (To Anonymous above - I'd rather watch MC than Charlie Brooker any day).

  3. Sarah you are quite right, and if you like MC that is absolutely fine by me, everyone has different tastes (hence me liking Mr Brooker - but then I am a miserable sod!).

    The issue is the sheer amount of such programming, with broadcasters copying each other and flinging as much of this 'Constructed Reality' stuff on as possible, which might lead to less opportunity for sitcom output. I took that as James' main concern.

  4. True, Anonymous - we do all have different tastes and from my previous comments one might easily assume that I have no taste at all. However, I am also in favour of more (quality) sitcoms so I can't be all bad.

    I am a snob when it comes to the Constructed Realilty shows that I deem worthy of my viewing time. 'No' to X Factor, that ballroom one, Britain's got talent etc., but 'yes' to Master Chef and The Apprentice. All of them dreadful really, I suppose, but as you point out, they keep Charlie Brooker (and Harry Hill) in work.

  5. P.S. Talking of sitcoms versus constructed reality shows, I have just came across 'Lunch Monkeys' for the first time on iplayer. How was that given a second series - or a first for that matter?

  6. Good point, there is quality in all genres of programming. And I watch all sorts of things, I do enjoy Apprentice, some Come Dine with me etc.

    I saw the first series of Lunch Monkeys and thought it had some promise, but it just wasn't "there". There are lots of comedy shows that get broadcast that should never have made it to air. Someone should have had the balls to say "This isn't good enough, funny enough, needs developing, re-casting" etc.

    It pains me to watch the waste of resources and time, all the while thinking "What were they doing? Why haven't I laughed in half an hour, or an hour!?"

  7. Indeed. One would think that the actors themselves on these shows would say, 'Hang on a minute, I can't say these lines, they're not funny', but maybe they are just grateful for the work. 'Phone Shop' was a similar case, I watched the first couple of episodes and thought that had some promise too, but as the series progressed it just got stupid and there was an un-necessarily high level of f-ing and blinding. Shame.

  8. I can recommend one sketch show that I have just found (courtesy of Grace Dent, The Guardian). Available on BBC iPlayer (only shown on BBC Scotland for some strange reason). Limmy's Show - series 2, just watched episode 1 and was mightily impressed (particularly as he writes it all himself). Not everyone's cup of tea but so much better than some of the 'comedy' on BBC.

  9. I've just given Limmy's Show a look and I can't say that I was overly impressed. It may well grow on me though. Limmy is very likeable and some of the sketches were clever. Maybe a bit too clever for me as I am a 'Harry & Paul' fan.