Milking cows and fleecing the viewers

This winter season of TV reality shows promises to be incident-filled and acrimonious. Numbering just two last year, this year they have grown to seven – and there may be more to come. Monday saw the start of «The Farm» on Mega and «Fame Story» on Antenna, which last year hosted «Big Brother» and «Bar» respectively. They are followed by «Gym» (Star), «Couple of the Year» (Alter), and «Pop Stars» (Mega), while the American series of «Fear Factor» and «Survivor» have been bought by Antenna. To date, it is unknown if and when «Bar 2» will be shown, while the Greek «Big Brother» appears to have run its natural cycle, and passed on the baton to its offspring. The 14 players on «The Farm» may be as busy as bees, cutting logs, collecting eggs, milking cows and rearing a horse, rabbits and hens, but they will not engage in beekeeping. That is another story, which we perforce will be hearing more of this winter, since new details about terrorist beekeepers – and their works and days – will emerge, and will be revealed to us by demonic reporters and expert program hosts. A veritable swarm of live spectacles, athrob with daily tension, will crowd our television screens, whether set in the environs of Korydallos Prison or on shows like «Big Brother.» What has changed since last year are… the letters. From B (as in «Bar» and «Big Brother»), we have gone on to F (Fame and Farm), while the channels dub their products either «musical academy,» or «a parade of talents and pairings,» etc. On some shows, the camera is less intrusive. For example, on «The Farm,» it records only from sunrise to sunset. The bucolic element predominates here, while reality shows aimed at a mass audience emphasize the «educational» aspect. The players become stars without realizing it, since they are given singing, elocution, dance and gymnastics lessons for three months – those, that is, lucky enough not to get a black mark. «Fame Story,» also offers lessons in behavior toward the mass media, styling and «anything related to the professional integration of the players,» said Antenna’s program director, Mr Latsios. Equally, «Pop Stars» states that it aims to «highlight a female pop group, which will… lay the firm foundations for a successful future.» Three months of toil will be followed by contracts, CDs and appearances alongside established singers. The question arises as to what the response will be. Wearied by the terrorist soap opera of the last three months, many viewers have reached the point of saying that «these people are some kind of solution.» Nonetheless, the various barbarian tribes have girded their loins for a furious ratings battle. Naturally enough, the first «Big Brother» stirred the curiosity of viewers, especially among the 15-34 age group. Something similar is expected to happen with the new shows. However, last season’s second line of battle did not sweep the field to the same degree, according to the viewers’ ratings agencies, while the degree of satisfaction expressed by viewers was in adverse relation to the high viewing figures. It remains to be seen whether there will be negative reactions, collective or individual, to this year’s crop of reality shows, as was the case last year with the vanguard. In contrast to the unruly and suspicious municipality of Galatsi, that of Vassilika in Evia, which is hosting «The Farm,» welcomed it with open arms. «Big Brother» – the mother of all reality shows – might have exited the scene, but its spirit lives and reigns. Afternoon chat shows are already busy feeding the viewing public with tidbits of information about the upcoming television games. The report that the 59-year-old father of Maria Louisa Vassilopoulou was taking part in «The Farm» was hot news. For those who have difficulty remembering the occupation of the lady in question, the key word is Eurovision. Ms Vassilopoulou was one of the quartet of songsters who fiercely questioned the judgment of the committee that chose that song of unforgettable memory, S.A.G.A.P.O., which helped us get a spot at the bottom of this year’s competition. The subjects of talk show debates are expected to be much the richer. To the question: «Are November 17 political prisoners?» which has resulted in endless hours of discussions and wrangles, will be added the burning question of «Are ‘Fame Story,’ ‘The Farm’ (or ‘Gym’ or whatever) reality?» «No!» reply their creators in thunderous chorus. «We of natural raw talent merely want to help; we aspire to shape lissome young bodies; we promise a return to Nature and convey ecological messages; we desire to rejuvenate lonely souls.» In short, the channels are set to undertake social work for the common good, which once again requires viewers’ active participation; their fleecing by cell phone companies, that is, and the augmentation of the hosts’ advertising revenue.