Dec 28 2007

The Year That Was… #8: Reality check

The lights may have faded a bit on reality TV’s ratings this year but the genre still has some life left in it.

Network Ten‘s big name franchises The Biggest Loser, Big Brother and Australian Idol all came back for more this year.

The Biggest Loser largely followed the formula of last year but this year added the twist of introducing two “intruders” half-way through the series – with one of the intruders, Chris Garling, going on to win the series. The series final also scored an audience of over 2 million, not an easy feat in this era of declining free-to-air audiences.

Big Brother (pictured) returned for its seventh series but in the wake of intense criticism last year over the “turkey slap” incident, this year’s series was shown to be a lot more restrained. Gone was the adults-only Big Brother Uncut program, and despite producer’s claims that the incoming housemates were all more “worldly” than their predecessors, the group of housemates appeared to be a fairly pedestrian slice of white Australia. Despite the apparent lack of diversity among the housemates there were some exceptions – such as Turkish belly dancer Demet, fiery Brazilian Daniela and Melbourne corset maker Zach Douglas.

There were some new twists in this year’s Big Brother; the concept of the “white room”, where potential housemates were kept in a sensory-deprived environment, was met with criticism, while other twists such as housemate couple Andrew and Hayley whose relationship was initially kept secret, and was also tested when producers introduced Billy, a former boyfriend of Hayley’s, into the house.

The producer’s also copped criticism and headlines when housemate Kate Gladman was forced to confront the trauma of a miscarriage when the housemates were given the task of looking after baby dolls. More headlines followed when the father of housemate Emma Cornell had passed away while she was in the house but producer’s decided against advising her of his death, in accordance with the wishes of Cornell’s family and of the dying wishes of her father.

Producers also copped a serve from none other than the Mexican Government when one of its Friday Night Live games had contestants hurling goo-filled balloons at an upside-down Mexican flag.

Then after one of the longest Big Brother finales on record, due to a close vote between Cobram hairdresser Aleisha Cowcher and self-confessed ‘drama queen’ Zach Douglas, 21-year-old Cowcher won the series with a prize-money of $450,000.

But Big Brother‘s biggest twists came after the finale, with announcements that host Gretel Killeen (pictured) is to be replaced next year by Sydney radio hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O, the adults-only “uncut” series will be back, and that Big Brother Up-Late with Mike Goldman won’t return in ’08.

Ten’s Australian Idol returned for a fifth series, though the spotlight – or at least the headlines – seemed to be on the judges rather than the contestants. With ratings down in comparison to earlier series, it was probably no coincidence that a lot of the reported ‘tensions’ between judges appeared in the Sunday newspapers, giving the show ample media exposure leading up to the regular Sunday night show.

The series final of Australian Idol, which saw Melbourne’s Natalie Gauci win the title, appeared to be dogged by technical hitches which wouldn’t have helped its ratings – scoring only 1.4 million viewers compared to last year’s finale watched by 2.1 million.

Over at Seven, they continued to mix the reality genre with variety with two more series of Dancing With The Stars (hosts Daryl Somers and Sonia Kruger pictured), another series of the singing contest It Takes Two, and the new Australia’s Got Talent.

Coupled with US import Ugly Betty, Australia’s Got Talent spearheaded Seven’s Sunday night schedule early in the year. While the program is actually an adaptation of an overseas format, viewers could have confused it as a one-hour version of the Red Faces segment from Hey Hey It’s Saturday – also as one of the show’s judges was Red Faces icon Red Symons. The series was to be won by 12-year-old singer Bonnie Anderson.

Dancing With The Stars scored controversy from within its own network when Today Tonight ran a report questioning that funds raised by the show’s SMS voting were being properly funneled to their respective charitable causes. Despite the stories, Dancing scored very well in the ratings, though did not match the numbers of previous series. Celebrity winners were Kate Ceberano in series six, and actor Bridie Carter in series seven later in the year.

Following the end of series seven of Dancing, host Somers decided it was time to move on. There were media reports that Somers had left after being refused some pressing demands on Seven and the show’s producer Granada International. Other reports suggested that there was still some unease at Somers working for Seven chief David Leckie, the same executive that axed Somers’ long-running Hey Hey It’s Saturday at Nine in 1999. A replacement host has yet to be found for Dancing, though rumours suggest that former Home And Away actor Tim Campbell (also a former Dancing contestant, and host of National Bingo Night), Deal Or No Deal host Andrew O’Keefe or even Somers’ former sidekick Sonia Kruger could take the coveted role.

In between Dancing With The Stars‘ two series this year was another series of It Takes Two which ran very successfully last year on Sunday nights, and continued to score well for Seven this year. The singing competition, hosted by former Sunrise weatherman Grant Denyer and Gold Logie winner Kate Ritchie, was won by All Saints actor Jolene Anderson (pictured).

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