Entertainment TV Why there is still life in reality TV: Tom Ballard
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Why there is still life in reality TV: Tom Ballard

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Over the past few weeks, some people have asked me, “Tom – why did you agree to host the new ABC panel show Reality Check, a light-hearted-yet-insightful look at the ins and outs of reality television?”.

On most occasions, I have replied “FOR THE SWEET TAXPAYER CASH, YOU MORON!!!”

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Then I laughed maniacally, flipped them the bird maverick-style and ran off giggling.

But sometimes, I have paused to consider the question more deeply.

I wondered about it myself when I was first offered the gig. I am certainly no reality TV “junkie”. I could really only class myself as a “social watcher”; someone who, say, might keep up with RuPaul’s Drag Race to impress boys he likes. The TV I watch tends to feature lasers and sex and dragons (note to Game of Thrones: more lasers!).

Tom Ballard. Photo: ABC
Tom Ballard. Photo: ABC

“And besides,” I thought at the time, “…reality television? Isn’t that whole thing kind of over? Aren’t we living in the Golden Age of TV drama and comedy, overdosing on Breaking Bad and being locked up with Orange Is The New Black and laugh-crying with Louie and getting shot in the face with True Detective and frolicking in Parks and Recreation?”

Turns out no.

I mean yes, we are living through that Golden Age and that’s awesome and I am loving every minute of it (even though I’m totally not illegally using Netflix or anything Tony Abbott FYI). But the fact of the matter is that reality television is nowhere near “over”.

It’s still a behemoth.

Of the top 10 most-watched shows on Australian television last year, six of them were reality shows. The other four were about something called “football”.

Of the top 10 most-watched Australian television broadcasts ever, four of them are reality show finales, with 5.74 million people tuning in to see Adam Liaw crowned the champion of the second series of Masterchef in 2010.

At a time when you can potentially watch centuries of televisual entertainment whenever and wherever you like, reality TV still draws millions of people to the idiot box they have in their house to watch stuff live. Alongside big sporting events and (maybe) the news, reality TV is one of the last pieces of major event broadcasting still standing.

I don’t think I can tell you one single reason why this genre is so successful. I just figure it all comes down to people and stories.

Reality blows up Twitter and its best clips still go massively viral. It’s surprisingly progressive (gays, mums, kids, black, white, rich, poor) and exposes the diversity of the human race, warts and all. It’s a truly global phenomenon, with over 140 different shiny-floor talent shows, 48 Survivors and 49 Big Brother houses around the world.

I don’t think I can tell you one single reason why this genre is so successful. I just figure it all comes down to people and stories. That’s what we always have and always will love, voyeuristic creatures that we are. And reality TV serves up pretty amazing people with crazy stories on a pretty regular basis, accompanied by ridiculously melodramatic soundtracks.

Put it this way: the 1969 moon landing was one of the most monumental television broadcasts in history, with approximately 600 million human beings tuning in worldwide. The next step in space exploration is getting to Mars. Scientists believe the people who will make that journey have already been born. And the so-called “Interplanetary Media Group” will try to find those astronauts through the means of a “global reality-TV media event”.

At the end of the day, the important thing is you watch my (hopefully) funny and smart show about reality TV.

Trust me: there’s going to be plenty to talk about.

Best known as former host of the triple j breakfast show ‘Tom and Alex’, 24-year-old Ballard is an award-winning stand up comedian described by Wil Anderson as “one of the most original, fearless and hilarious voices in Australian comedy”.

Reality Check premieres on ABC 1 at 9:00pm on August 13

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