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Radiography of reality TV in Spain

In April 2000, the premiere of Big Brother, the first Spanish reality TV show, was an unprecedented uproar: where were the limits of intimacy? Telecinco was quick to guarantee that it would not broadcast foul jokes, eschatological scenes or conversations about sex or politics. Even the person responsible for importing the original Dutch format, José Velasco, had to dissuade two parliamentary groups, PP and PSOE, from opening a commission to investigate how the program was recorded. “I told them that they would make a fool of themselves if the population saw them getting off a bus in Guadalix. The country could not think that the most important thing for Congress was to find out if people came out in their underpants in Big Brother ”, he recalls today. Two decades later, with 22 reality shows running on Spanish television, one of those shows asks its contestants to shoot a rabbit, another broadcasts explicit sex scenes on progress and another is being held accountable for the suicide of an actress.

The road here has been shorter than it seems. The first step is that reality in reality shows is an increasingly broad term. Since that of Big Brother, which reached an 80% audience share, the public's relationship with the reality shows is , more than love-hate, curiosity-distrust. “Reality TV invites the public to see plots constructed as if they were fiction and human beings portrayed as if they were characters,” explains Mercé Oliva, professor in the Department of Communication at Pompeu Fabra University. After all, they have scriptwriters. “Non-fiction is supposed to be unscripted. But he has everything, “says Óscar Prol, head of non-fiction content at Amazon Prime Video that was forged in Who wants to marry my son and in the production company of First Dates . “You ask yourself: What do I want to happen? How can I make the contestants react the way I want based on the story I want to tell? ”

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With this formula, reality television has become, along with news and sporting events , in the last reason of being of the television in free. Survivors and The island of temptations are among the few current programs capable of exceeding 30% of the audience; and MasterChef remains, eight years later, around a solid 20%, more than double that of the average TVE audience. Now Netflix ( Insiders and Love on Bail ) and Amazon Prime Video ( Celebrity Bake Off ) also aspire to conquer that penultimate bastion of chains.

The participants of 'Amor con bail'.

“On Netflix you have the sirloin: 50 minutes of pure reality television gold “, indicates Mario Briongos, entertainment director of Fremantle (Love with bail) who has passed through realities like Big Brother or Blind trust . Briongos admits that social commentary is lost on live networks week by week, but concentrates on the first days “because now we consume like this, in an ephemeral way.” Social media has kept the relevance of reality TV alive and altered how audiences consume it. In 2012, during the broadcast of Who wants to marry my son , the blogger Hematocritico used the word “trippy” ( of colloquial Galician origin) to refer to the contestants and ended up being a world trend. Since then, the experience of consuming a reality no longer consists only in watching it, but in commenting on it at the same time on social networks. Amparo Castellano, general director of the production company Zeppelin, acknowledges that they selected Lucía Pariente and Adara for Secret Story because fans had been asking for their participation in a reality . In November, Secret Story monopolized 62.4% of the conversation about television on Twitter according to a report by the consulting firm Barlovento Comunicación. There were almost 5.5 million tweets in one month.

The next step is the obligation to constantly raise the stakes. In 2003, three years after Telecinco guaranteed that it was not going to broadcast vulgar plots, the central conflict of Hotel Glam was to clarify whether Yola Berrocal had masturbated Dinio García in a coach . The first sexual images issued by Big Brother were those of Eva and Emilio in the second edition and, for the fourth, a specific term had already been coined: edredoning . Today, in The Island of Temptations it is assumed that there will be images of intercourse in each chapter. Asked about the limit of what they would never broadcast, the director of C Quartz (producer of La isla), Juan Ramón Gonzalo, responds that they show “what is necessary for the stories to be understood ”. The machinery, by the way, does not distinguish between platform and traditional television. Álvaro Díaz, director of non-fiction content at Netflix, is better known to audiences as Alvarito , the nickname given to him by Mercedes Milá when he was director of Big Brother: “All of us who are doing realities in Spain come from the same place and from working with the same person, José Velasco ”.

Mercedes Milá and Ismael Beiro, in the final of the first 'Big Brother'.

The third step It is the type of people and behaviors that the public expects from a reality . That April 23, 2000, release date of Big Brother , the monitor turned 180 degrees: the television no longer showed people because they were famous, but now people were famous because they were on television. “In GH12 Julio The fierce and Flor clearly said inside the house that they were going to roll up to make people talk, to be taken to other programs and to give her a cover in Interviú . They were expelled directly, ”recalls Mafer Jiménez, who started as an editor at Who knows where and was director of casting at 12 editions of Big Brother , in the first two of MasterChef and now in Insiders . According to her, reality TV castings are looking for people to express their emotions. “It is fundamental: if there is no emotion, if there is no expressiveness, if there is no communication capacity, what do we do? Well, 'Take that piece of furniture and take it away from there ”. In the Mediaset dialect, “furniture” is the term used to describe contestants who do not generate plots, conflicts, or television minutes.

“That's why Najwa Nimri says at the beginning of the program: 'Let's not fool ourselves, at this point the contestants of reality know them all ”, indicates Mamen Fernández, director of Insiders . At the age of 24, she was the editor in charge of following Jorge Berrocal (“Who puts his leg on me”) in the first Big Brother and now she plays an active role in front of the cameras to ensure that the contestants create the pantomime. Insiders intends to give the umpteenth return to the reality shows of coexistence: the contestants are subjected to a casting to enter a mysterious program without knowing that, in reality, the castings are the program. At one point, they tell several of them that they must shoot a rabbit if they want to continue. The bullets are blank, the animal is stuffed, but the anguish of the contestants is authentic. “The bunny was an answer to the question on which the show revolves: how far would they be willing to go to enter a contest? Only in extreme situations are you going to show yourself how you really are “, defends Arantxa Sánchez, iZen's director of production.

The contestants of 'Insiders'.

According to Mercé Oliva, the contestant's true competition is against the program. “The contestants' instinct will always be to try to have some control over how they are represented on camera, whereas the show wants them to lose control over their own representation because that's where the moments of authenticity are. And to achieve that authenticity, what is done is to put them under pressure ”, he points out.

“ At the level of social perception there is a distinction between reality of coexistence and talent show ”, says Oliva. “The talent is linked to more legitimate notions: work, talent, effort. It connects with traditional notions of meritocracy, while the reality of coexistence is more stigmatized. That is why talent has wanted to disassociate itself from coexistence ”. In fact, Macarena Rey, president of Shine Iberia, boasted of making “white formats” such as MasterChef and Masters of sewing competing with realities “much stronger” such as The island of temptations or Survivors . Jorge Javier Vázquez, presenter of the second one, took the hint and responded in Save me : “I would like many of the known people who have gone to work at MasterChef will explain what their experience has been and in what extreme situations they have been placed to play in the program. White program, tururú. ”

Ana Iglesias, winner of 'MasterChef 8', in the final of the program. MOEH ATITAR

MasterChef and its production company, Endemol Shine Iberia, have received criticism since the actress Verónica Forqué committed suicide at her home on December 13. A publication in social networks of his partner in the 1994 series Pepa and Pepe Silvia Abascal summarized the opinion of many viewers: “It was not good. He did not understand how he was allowed to participate or continue in regrettable and obvious conditions. He also regretted the “wild, ruthless” comments that some viewers of the program wrote to Forqué on Instagram. “The focus is not on the visible faces of the program, colleagues and presenters, but on the invisible ones; the thinking heads that create it and those that consume it. ”

Mario Briongos assures that there is a 24-hour team of psychologists in all Fremantle productions, just as there was in Big Brother , where he started as a copywriter. “In Amor con bail they had to intervene in complicated situations such as anxiety attacks or mismanagement of their emotions. At the end of the day they are young kids, “he says. Both Amparo Castellano and Juan Ramón Gonzalo confirm that the productions of Zeppelin ( Big Brother, Secret Story ) and Quartz ( The Island of Temptations ) are governed by regulations and a code of conduct, in addition to making the contestants go through psychological reviews before, during and after the contest.

These steps They have led to the present, when more than one viewer wonders if the genre has not gone too far. “In all reality shows there is an ethical tension in the power relationship between program and contestant. It is a precarious balance ”, analyzes Mercé Oliva. “This unequal power relationship, even greater in the case of the anonymous, is something that must be examined. For a long time one of the great rules of reality shows has been not to question the rules. You cannot complain: if you are here it is because you want to and you must show it by passionately abiding by the rules. And it is very important to understand that the contestants are workers and, as such, there is a reality that has to be examined at the legal level. What types of contracts are signed? What agreements are made? ”

An image of the first edition of 'The island of temptations'.

“Gustavo Bueno said that the program was changing the way people see themselves,” José Velasco recalls today about the philosopher whom GH fascinated by considering it “a reproduction of the belief system in a controlled environment.” Mercé Oliva agrees that reality television made it possible to address issues that did not seem acceptable to talk about. “As it is sometimes done in questionable ways, it seems that the value of reality television in raising issues we need to talk about is forgotten. Reality TV connects with very deep social debates. That is why they continue to attract the public so much. ”

Amparo Castellano, from Zeppelin, shows his chest. “Although these types of programs are remembered more for their controversies, it must also be recognized that historically these formats have been a great stimulus to make visible groups and realities that were outside the media focus (LGTBQ +) or show ethnic and racial diversity”. Jorge Pérez Vega, content director at Buendía, producer of Drag Race Spain , was also interested in the dialogue between generations: “Pupi [Poisson, concursante de 38 años] is dedicated to drag from a time when in Spain your family stopped talking to you for doing something like that, while other contestants had their parents bought their first high heels. That arch presents an X-ray of Spain as a country and its evolution. ”

José Velasco, the“ nutty ”who was brought from Holland Big Brother and changed Spanish television, today he is learning on the fly to navigate the platforms. “You can no longer wait for the viewer to get hooked because they have the TV on and stumble upon your program. On platforms, the mechanisms are different: we need them to engage from minute 5, so emotions must appear faster. In the first Big Brother people put the live broadcast on Vía Digital and created addiction. Reports indicated that there were spectators who left it on for four or five hours, even if nothing happened, because it kept them company. But today TV is no longer a bonfire. ”

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