Faking It: how RDF killed tv genre and ate its babies

Perennial favourite Charlie Brooker, and current bookmark TV Controller, have both written incisively yet humorously on the continuing farce that is RDF’s storm in a Royal teacup.

The point has been widely made that it has never been advisable to believe what you see on TV. In fact, it was made here just last week in relation to ‘reality’ TV.


Of course, there may be no clear distinction between how Stephen Lambert sculpted many a fantastic episode of Faking It, and the way he edited the story of Liz II’s portrait sitting, but there are reasons why this particular incident caused such a stir.

The now-infamous ‘Queen-storming-off-in-a-huff’ scene not only misrepresented the head of our ‘Beloved Royal Family™’, but was used by the BBC in trailers to sell the film all over the world, blotting the corporation’s much treasured international reputation (and revenue stream).

However the rumpus may provide programme makers and viewers with a valuable opportunity to reflect not only on the authenticity of the messages beamed to the nation’s digi-boxes, but also on the constructed nature of TV genres.

It has, to a degree, always been this way. Documentary makers have set up scenes and left stories untold on the cutting room floor, while TV drama and comedy writers have borrowed liberally from life.

But where directors and editors once used these techniques largely to enhance their programmes, these days genre cross-pollination is itself a creative goal, meaning that existing codes of practice have come under increasing strain.

We live in a world where:

Reality shows have script writers.

Cable news can spin a narrative worthy of Hollywood from the mish-mash of a day’s events.

Drama-docs reconstruct real events, and have real repercussions in the world.

How can we best categorise and label programmes in a world like this?

The old genre labels are of limited use, but it seems a shame to tag each broadcast with a written breakdown of the reliance on fact and creative input throughout the production process.

No-one wants to viewers to be hoodwinked (most of the time!), but part of the fun in many entertainment programmes is the producers teasing the audience, and the audience playing a guessing game, or willingly suspending their disbelief (how else could you watch Flavor of Love?).

I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for anyone who offers a workable solution that preserves the mystery and creativity of the best TV, along with public confidence.

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One thought on “Faking It: how RDF killed tv genre and ate its babies

  1. “Reality” shows have always been mis-named because they rely on a constructed “situation” and an entertainment-led narrative structure. It’s only when the Queen becomes the subject of some tricky editing that the issue suddenly becomes a “crisis of confidence” in TV. I’ve no idea what the solution is but a line seems to be crossed in documentaries and reality shows when producers distort timelines and create scripted, artificial scenes. Cut these practices out and most viewers will be prepared to play along.

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