A few months ago when I was on my Hyper Island course, one of my fellow students told us about a show she had worked on when in development, a show which was apparently being touted as Channel 4′s replacement for Big Brother. Coincidentally one of our visiting experts then gave us an exercise where we had to brainstorm ideas for the digital side of the same show (his company had pitched for the contract, I seem to remember). So I’ve had longer than most to mull over the idea, in theory at least, and was particularly interested in last night’s launch, especially as I was led to believe that this could mark a new episode in interactive/social tv.
If you didn’t watch, the premise is that we’re following a series of residents of Notting Hill, docusoap style, with the unique selling point in this case being that it’s happening almost in real time. In tv, you see, that’s considered groundbreaking because unless you’re live, it tends to take ages to do anything. Unlike Big Brother, the participants are able to see the reaction to the show, and what’s more we as audience are being encouraged to interact with and help them decide how to lead their lives.
So far, so unoriginal. It’s Paddington Green with bells and tweets on, but without Todd Carty and the weird wigmaker. The initial irritant is the location the production team have chosen; Notting Hill. I can see why they’ve done it (U.S. sales?)…but judging by Twitter reaction it’s a potentially fatal flaw. We know what the rest of the country feels about London and London-centric media, and I’m sure that most Londoners have the same opinion of cliched Notting Hill-billies. Play a game with me now; if you didn’t watch the show, guess who they’re featuring….
Blonde sloaney type who calls her mother ‘Mummy’…check
Property developer (ok he’s entertainingly bizarre; the frozen cat anecdote made last night worth watching)…check
Young black youths who hang out and do pull-ups in the street…check
Now unlike many of those on Twitter last night I’m not going to get involved with slating the participants. It’s not what I do; what right have I to criticise other people’s personalities? I just think that the casting is desperately cliched and therefore I’m not sure I want to get involved with their lives on the level Channel 4 expects of me.
So did it work as an hour of tv? Not really. I really didn’t learn much, cared even less, and the attempts to make the whole thing up to date were ham-fisted to say the least (radio bulletins, staged chats about the day’s headlines).
Did it work as an hour of interactive tv? Potentially. I found interacting with the Twitter feed (#sevendays) more entertaining than the show (the Channel 4 website crashed so can’t comment on that but it doesn’t look a patch on what we came up with at Hyper Island)…but maybe that is the point. I suggested at one point that perhaps Channel 4 execs might be more interested in tweets than ratings, and certainly as the series progresses and we see the effects that ‘fame’ has on the participants, and potentially a two-way dialogue between them and us, there could be interesting consequences. I do feel for them if they were following the Twitter feed, however; most people didn’t have the same attitude as me when it came to offering opinions on their personalities.
So will I watch it again? Yes. I’m genuinely interested in how the whole thing pans out but more from a professional than personal standpoint. I do think that tv has to get more interactive and social if aspects of it are to survive, so I do hope that the series is a success in the long run. But I do fear for a project which gets caned by Brian Belo from Big Brother (no I don’t follow him, I spotted his tweet in the timeline).
If you didn’t watch, here’s the link, although another irritant is that for a supposedly modern, interactive tv show, C4/4OD have uploaded the whole episode onto YouTube but have panicked and disabled embedding. So here’s the link: Seven Days Ep 1