It was the surprise minority hit of 2013: stories seen on television that were not actually true in any sense but rather contained in ‘scripts’ produced by ‘writers’ and played out by trained professionals known in the industry as ‘actors’. Sometimes, analysts agree, Borgen even matched Eddie Stobart: Trucks & Trailers for excitement. However, most still dismiss Unreality TV as a passing fad.
‘By 2015, it will be all over,’ said Damian Lewis of the Radio Times. ‘Because their plots are not actually real, they have to be filmed on ‘sets’ or in ‘locations’ that need to be paid for. You also have to pay the so-called ‘writers’, ‘actors’ and a host of others before you even turn a penny on advertising. It’s the economics of the madhouse.’
Many British viewers, Lewis added, have been confused and upset by the way Unreality TV blurs lines between fact and fiction. Downton Abbey has been particularly criticised for setting a story in World War One and the 1920s, which are generally agreed to have really happened, while populating it with Lord Grantham and his family, who never existed. ‘As for Mister Bates, I can only assume he is a puerile and smutty in-joke on the part of the producers’.
Television actually dates back to the 1950s, when it consisted mostly of images of a potter’s wheel. It only became popular in the 1980s, however, after Maureen from Driving School became its first true superstar. Now, a 30-year tradition of making ordinary people into household names is under threat from outright elitism.
‘If I’m wrong and this takes off, it will be the end of civilisation as we know it,’ warned Lewis. ‘You’ll have these actor chappies taking over, there’ll be no space in the schedule for challenging pieces of programming like Britain’s Next Top Porn Star, and next thing you know, they’ll be all over Strictly Come Dancing or, God forbid, Mrs Brown’s Boys.’