If you can’t handle the tweet, get out of the TV kitchen
When it comes to reality TV, this much we know: Facebook death threats and Twitter hate campaigns are very good for ratings.
Just check the huge numbers hauled in by all the mass-hating on Deni Hines, reluctant anti-hero of what could well have passed by as just a paler Aussie version of one more American import, Celebrity Apprentice.
Whether it was for her so-called “bullying” of fellow contestant, Polly, her brittle ego (bristling at being offered advice), or her diva antics (refusing to sing for her team’s KFC campaign because she is a vegetarian), Hines is so detested by the Twittersphere she confessed this week to being “the most hated person on TV”.
Deni says she doesn’t like it, of course, and who would. But could she really be surprised? Having landed in Australia in 2001, the first year of the of the increasingly hideous Big Brother series, reality TV has been a fact of viewing life for a decade. You’d think by now we’d know the rules.
For the producers, Rule Number One is look as hard as it takes to cast a bunch of clashing personalities.
Include at least one whose ego is so humongous, or their delusions (about their ability to out-smart the conflict-loving and weakness-revealing formula) so grand, or their naivete about what these shows expose you to so thick that they’ll happily go on, be themselves, and fire up the punters. That is, make sure you have someone you’re pretty sure could take a nasty fall, then just sit back and rake in the tweets.
Because with enough hate, you too can watch a show featuring no bigger name than comedian Julia Morris give a hiding on finale night to a much-loved mega star like our Kylie, whose 1.45 million bums on couches for her X Factor singalong was trumped by Apprentice‘s 1.6m.
Most interesting to watch has been how Twitter has become as much of a godsend for reality producers as it has a curse for unwary, unwise or unlucky participants.
As everyday folks flock to it in their millions, tweeting is changing the way we consume TV even more than TiVo.
One gives you the power to turn back time, but the other lets you to connect with the mood of the nation in real time and have an impact on the short and long-term destiny of the program, and everybody on it. Who needs to phone a voter line when you can tap out a tweet that, if it’s clever enough, will give you hundreds of times the bang for your feed-back buck.
What started as a Q & A tweet-club has this year spread across pretty much any program with an ounce of controversy; from The Slap to Hamish and Andy’s Gap Year (monstered).
What (incredibly) people like Hines may not have taken in is that for every burst of less than loveliness they fire off on screen - every bit of shameless self-promotion, venal competitiveness or just plain bitchery - an army of ordinary people is primed and ready with a ballistic missile’s worth of tweets to fire back. And for civilians, they’re a surprisingly good shots.
And though the ratings-boosting Hines-scorn was particularly harsh, she’s only the latest in a well-established trend, one she should have been aware of. Remember the online beating administered in June to awful Raquel Moore, self-confessed racist and anti-star of Go Back to Where You Came From?
Moore’s haters were energetic enough to make Raquel a world-wide Twitter trend, and the show became a blockbuster for the normally niche broadcaster, SBS.
Others to feel sting this year include teenaged Australia’s Got Talent contestant, Jack Vigden, pilloried for claiming he’d written a song that in fact he’d had some help with, and “loudmouth” Tasmanian My Kitchen Rules contestant, Melanie Maddock, bollocked for being generally dislikeable.
More bizarre was the slag-fest on happy Danni Venn from MasterChef; seemingly for nothing worse than staying positive.
For anyone silly or ambitious enough to venture onto reality TV, this last example should set off the loudest bells of all. It’s proof that just as the thrill of the cameras can amplify, and possibly distort the “real you”, so jumping on a Twitter frenzy can prompt the erstwhile reasonable punter, tapping away with a vino on the couch, into putting up stuff on the world-wide screen they may very well cringe over in the morning.
Too late though. What goes online stays online, and as Hines has discovered, there is nothing virtual about it.
So here’s a memo to would-be reality celebrities: unless you’re certain you’re so loveable that you’ll never be the flash-point for this kind of immolation, stay out of the TV kitchen… even dear old MasterChef’s.
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