Viewers cannot get enough of real life

Michael Streeter on the blurring of information with entertainment
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The row over the "op shock" hospital video Everyday Operations is one more sign of the public's apparent fascination with so-called called "real-life" action.

Set against those people who expressed outrage over a video depicting hospital surgery, are the 9 million-plus who settle down to watch ITV's new hit series Police, Action, Camera!

Essentially the two rely on the same ingredients; video footage shot by official bodies in formal circumstances and later skillfully packaged as entertainment in our living rooms.

Increasingly, say experts, the lines between information and entertainment are being blurred on our television and video screens; information - if graphic enough - is entertainment.

The controversial video Executions, which featured 21 killings from around the world, is perhaps the clearest example yet of how a supposedly educational programme was regarded as exploiting the worst of humanity for entertainment.

The same group of producers had earlier made the the successful Police Stop! video which grossed pounds 3.5m with its high-speed car chases and crashes.

More controversial was the Caught in the Act! video, which combined villains being caught committing crimes with closed-circuit television footage of sexual acts. Yet another video, Road Rage, is due out soon.

The spin-off into television is clear. Police, Action, Camera! can trace its parentage to the Police Stop! video. It was used by the ITV network to go head-to-head with EastEnders during the Olympics, and though beaten into second place it still attracted a healthy 9.1m viewers with its spy- in-the-eye view of police car chases.

But for the television viewer who can get all the violence and thrills they want from films and television dramas, what is the added attraction of real-life productions which often suffer from relatively poor quality?

James Hunt, of David Donoghue Associates, behind Everyday Operations, believes the popularity has been partly inflated as a result of politicians' anger at trying to ban them.

But he admits there are other reasons. "People prefer to see reality on TV, because it's the next best thing to reality. And what is wrong with reality?"

He also maintains that many serve an educational purpose. "If anyone gets entertainment from watching executions then I feel sorry for them," he said.

Barrie Goulding, whose company EduVision helped produce Caught in the Act!, admits there is a strong element of voyeurism.

"I think you can trace this back to Candid Camera. The general public does not want to see people come to harm. But witnessing someone in a real situation from afar is fascinating."

Victor Perkins, lecturer in the Film and Literature Department at the University of Warwick, believes there is a problem of "confusion of purpose" over what is information and what is entertainment.

But he accepts there is natural curiosity in people wanting to see real- life dramas, as viewers test themselves over how they would react. "Wanting to see how people behave in extremis is not necessarily deplorable."