Television’s blurring reality and fantasy…

The Voice is done for 2012, and Karise Eden has won Nine’s hugely successful ratings bonanza. Well done, Karise, with a voice like that, you deserved to win, and I’m sure there’ll be no escaping it for at least the next three months.

Karise proved she had the biggest and best Voice this year.

That’s no a bad thing, necessarily; previous winners of TV talent shows have gone on to forge successful careers, but I have to say I am glad The Voice is finished. I watched a couple of the early episodes, in the heady chair-spinning audition days, but even the strong voices weren’t enough for me to commit to watch it religiously – I’m not even watching MasterChef as avidly as previous years. But for me, regardless of how The Voice was dressed up, and who the judges and mentors were, it was still another reality/talent show, pulling out the usual manipulative tricks and following the talent show formula.

There’s no shortage of these shows. Australia’s Got Talent is in semi-final stage and The X Factor‘s next season is being promoted already. No sign of a return for Australian Idol, of course. But stranger things are happening…

Johnny Ruffo shows he has more than the X Factor now…

It’s not just these talent reality shows that are saturating our TV screens: Seven’s Dancing With The Stars finished on the weekend, with Johnny Ruffo, himself a product of last year’s X Factor, taking the trophy home; The Block is still banging away, and MasterChef is also bubbling away. The Amazing Race Australia is also mid-stride, and (heaven forbid), the reinvented Big Brother, now on Nine and hosted by Sonia Kruger, is not far away.

MasterChef contestants wait patiently for ‘The Voice’ to finish, so they can start rating again…

These shows have dominated the television landscape for over ten years now, and reality TV has developed its own culture, formulas and screen language and grammar. That’s not always helpful; MasterChef is struggling to maintain its ratings this year, but the trouble is, everyone’s wised up to their tricks – the drawn-out announcements, the contestant backstories, the ‘cliffhanger’ ball of flame before an ad break, and the excessive recaps. Now that The Voice has finished, it may pick up some viewers, hungry to feed their reality TV appetites.

‘Offspring’s heightened reality is proving successful – much to Nina’s relief!

But, more interestingly – for me, at least – is what reality TV has done to TV drama. Take a look at the popular dramas du jour: Revenge, Downton Abbey, Offspring, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Doctor Who, even Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries; they’re either melodramas, sci-fi/fantasy, or ‘heightened’ dramas. And by ‘heightened’ drama, i mean shows like Offspring and Winners & Losers, which are set in a recognisable world with familiar character types and scenarios, but it’s an exaggerated version of reality seen through a different set of eyes.

It’s also interesting that a show like Revenge, which is so far removed from reality that it’s high camp and hugely entertaining, is one of the most popular dramas on TV right now. Likewise with Downton Abbey. Yes, it’s set in a familiar historical period, but again it’s so over-the-top, I can’t help but love it. No wonder then that Dallas is making a return to TV as well.

This ‘Revenge’ isn’t served cold – it’s steaming hot!

Then you have all the fantasy and sci-fi shows that are so popular, and it’s a new take on fantasy. Game of Thrones, popular on Pay TV, is a soapy political melodrama set in Lord of the Rings territory, and True Blood is also an edgy and adult drama populated with vampires and other supernatural beings. Similar are the UK shows, Being Human (and its US version) and Misfits, that create soap opera dramas for their mythical characters. Doctor Who, since its reboot in 2005, has a much more emotional connection with its audience, with recognisable characters thrust into alien cultures and other worlds, but still maintaining personal relationships.

Fangs for the ratings! ‘True Blood’ pulls them in.

The demand for these shows is as high as reality TV’s – just one look at my Facebook feed shows it’s dominated by people’s thoughts on who will win the reality show of the moment, or updates on freshly-downloaded episodes of True Blood or Doctor Who. And of course, Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we watch TV; it’s all interactive and immediate now.

So it appears we like our reality trimmed and edited and packaged into palatable chunks, and we like our fantasy infused with real people and identifiable scenarios, but we don’t want our drama ‘gritty’ or ‘real-life’ anymore. Maybe it’s because our day-to-day lives are gritty and real enough; now when we watch TV, we want to be entertained and transported into fantasy worlds, or we want to see other people’s dreams either dashed or become reality, because really, we all still to like dream, and escape…

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