There's been a lot of chat about 'honesty' in UK TV recently after the scandal involving certain Participation TV players, some of whom to be frank were conning people out of money in a manner reminiscent of street con-men doing the three card trick. I definitely got some dirty looks when I was involved with gambling on TV, but at least with that every pound you gave us, was a pound that was genuinely placed as a bet, with the chance of a return advertised (the odds).
But today I want to talk about a slightly different kind of honesty, the little white lies that Producers tell via voice overs and edits in Factual TV. The little white lies used to tell a story clearly, to add drama, to make a show exciting to watch. Its the kind of fuzzy little lies that any Producer or researcher involved in factual or reality will have done a thousand times.
Last night I watched the finals of the UK's latest series of The Apprentice. What struck me throughout the show we had a constant voice over mentions along the lines of 'it's the 12th week', 'at the end of this week Sir Alan makes his choice', 'the final week', tonight they present', 'tomorrow Sir Alan chooses'.
That's perfectly normal on TV, I get that if you start quoting time-lines via the shooting schedule you'll just confuse the viewer. But in this case it came across as ridiculous, an untruthful, I was being lied to.
Unlike may other shows, this one was different - it's been on the front pages of The Sun and The Mirror, it's been discussed in The Independent and The Guardian. If you're in the UK and have any kind of awareness of the media not only do you know about Katie, the married man and naked countryside romps, you also know the well discussed fact that Sir Alan in fact had the 2 finalists on his employ for 6 months before he made his choice.
It makes The Apprentice look ridiculous, and eats away at the trust an audience has for what TV tells us is 'real'. Manipulate away on Big Brother, we all know that happens and there is no real pretence. But don't tell me on TV that I'm looking at the colour blue when I know from my morning paper, my web news feeds that what I'm seeing is the colour red.
Just as the internet is helping hold politicians to account, making Corporate giants acts a little more truthfully, isn't it time the 'Reality' Production industry took a look at how it edits, plans it's narratives and writes its voice overs.
This isn't the easy option, it might mean a lot more work. It might even mean that its much, much harder to make that impact that a hot show needs.
However, if the downside is loosing your audience, or more accurately never gaining that younger audience that is used to truth and challenging corporate facts and fingers, well doesn't that make it worth at least stopping and thinking about those little white lies we tell without thinking.