The lurex fest that is Keeping Up With The Kardashians (KUWTK to fans) returns to E! this Sunday for an eleventh series. The show has become imbued in the public consciousness, contributing to the international conversation on topics from child-rearing to transgender identity. President Obama even weighed in on family member Caitlyn Jenner's gender transition (she now has her own spin-off). We shouldn’t forget that this is a family who are famous for being famous - for sex tapes and selfies more than anything else. Kim alone has 52 million Instagram followers. Ever-slickly managed by “momager” Kris, the new series' opening credits are the most glam yet. Watching them hammers home the point: we could buy their clothing ranges and copy their make-up, but we could never join the K-club, because the family are edited, filtered, primped and preened. They are Instagram-ready but they are not real. Fatigue is showing. Season eleven premiered in the States last week with only 2.4 million viewers, down on previous series and the demographic that counts to networks – the 18-49 age bracket– has fallen in recent seasons.
The ratings trajectory is similar to that of one of our home-grown reality shows, The X Factor. This year’s revamped, super-glossy judging panel and more brutal selection formats have not helped the ratings decline. This series has even been beaten by the likes of Antiques Roadshow and Countryfile. Perhaps people are switching off because the talent we see on screen doesn’t feel authentic. Viewers are constantly reminded that the judges are looking for “the complete package”. Singing is only one part of that. The image we get of the hopefuls –made-over by stylists and with personal emotional “journeys” ramped up– feels manipulated. That’s without throwing recent accusations of results fixing into the mix.
It’s raw, unglossy talent that seems to be winning the ratings war, the zenith of which is The Great British Bake Off. This year's finale, won by Nadiya Hussain, was watched by 13.4 million. The Bake Off contestants, and those in its new sister show The Great Pottery Throwdown, are normal people. They’re firefighters; engineers; doctors; teachers; stay-at-home parents, all who spend free time pursuing passions and honing techniques. If they’re posting on Instagram, it’s filtered pictures of their cakes and ceramics, not their faces.
For perspective, I turned back to commentators across the pond who’ve lapped up Bake Off on Netflix and raved about the recently completed run on PBS. "If American TV contestants are expected to go in blustering about winning it all, Great British Bake-Off contenders always say they just hope they don't come in last,” one wrote. “They seem real in a way that most TV contenders don't. They sometimes have gray hair or bifocals or a body mass index over 19”. Imagine that on KUWTK. You cant, right?
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