Magazine article Metro Magazine

A Different Kind of Paradise: Reality Television in New Zealand. (New Zealand in Focus)

Magazine article Metro Magazine

A Different Kind of Paradise: Reality Television in New Zealand. (New Zealand in Focus)

Article excerpt

New Zealand is fertile territory for reality television. As a crossing point for popular programming from both the UK and the US, New Zealand television is uniquely positioned to pick up and reflect the going trends of television production and development in the West. Indeed, the 'reality revolution' of the 1990s has come home to roost here: some two hundred reality television programmes have aired since 1997, and, though there has been something of a fall-off since 2001, a regular allotment of new RTV shows still comes our way. Of the reality programmes appearing on NZ channels, some are direct imports (for example, Survivor or Airport) while a few are overseas products framed by a local presenter (for example, video-clip shows). The majority, however, are local revisions of international formats, which take a concept and redefine it in terms of local context (for example, Towies, a ride-along programme following tow-truck drivers, is a version of the UK Clampers).

INCREASINGLY, MANY PROGRAMMES involve homegrown formats, mixing and extending concepts from the world of RTV shows that particularly suit the culture (such as the dating programme The Mating Game (2002), which combines a blind-date game with surveillance technology with make-over programming, presented by two ex-rugby league stars in direct competition with one another for points). In rare cases, the import/export trajectory goes the other way as well, with a few of the most original NZ formats having been exported overseas, most notably Popstars, but more recently The Chair and Single Girls. (1)

The widespread appeal of reality television to New Zealand broadcasters, especially on the state-owned TVNZ (channels One and 2), (2) undoubtedly has to do with the fact that this is a small country caught between a financially limited TV industry and a strong penchant for seeing Kiwi faces on the small screen. After all, reality television is useful as a way of getting local faces on air without going to the immense expense of creating a drama programme. Given the history of reality TV here and New Zealand's position as a turnstile in the world RTV market, two points will be of interest in this article: the malleability of formats and the appeal of ordinariness. New Zealand television is a particularly good place for studying the way that RTV formats, which are global in their transportability, 'come to ground' in a particular cultural zone. NZ television, moreover, is a showcase for the worldwide shift from personality or expert-led factual programming to the channeling of the ordinary or everyday. In a country where the demand for a range of 24/7 programming far outstrips the home industry's ability to provide it, one steady answer to the dilemma has been to import other countries' product. The other answer--though the two are by no means mutually exclusive--is to seek out the 'good TV' lurking in the ordinariness of each one of us.

NZ RTV: A RECENT HISTORY

Historically speaking, 1999 was the boom year of reality programming on New Zealand television. In the first full week of January 1999, there was a reality show, challenge show or lifestyle show on each of the three major channels (TV One and TV2, and the privately owned TV3) five nights out of the week. During the course of the year, one could tune in to at least five NZ-produced crime/disaster programmes (that is, Police, Emergency Heroes, Against the Odds, AA Insurance Police Alert and Motorway Patrol) and any number of local-version renovation or property makeover shows (for example, Firth Ground Force, Location, Location, Location, Mitre 10 Changing Rooms, etc.). What all of these shows airing in 1999 have in common is the search for the everyman: the couples in Mitre 10 Changing Rooms are, in their way, as much a normative Mr. and Mrs. New Zealander as the participants in Garage Sale or the nabbed drivers on Motorway Patrol. Here, for the first time in New Zealand's television history, we're interested in the unmet neighbour, that person from down the street, because they combine the ordinariness of the culturally recognizable figure with the quirks of the individual. …

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