As a social experiment reality television used to be the equivalent of lobbing a few gerbils into a shoebox to observe them squeaking at each other, squabbling over sunflower seeds and, God willing, having gerbil sex under a tiny gerbil table.
But reality television has evolved. Structured reality is more ambitious. It sprawls. It has battered down the sides of the shoebox. The gerbils have escaped the laboratory.
Structured reality is a neologism created to make the distinction from actual reality, just in case any viewers thought it was a coincidence that a cameraman is present at every emotional juncture of our heroes' existences or that they gather in theatrically-lit discotheques. This persuasive sub-genre has scrabbled up the cathode ray and clamped itself onto our screens so durably the arbiters at BAFTA have instigated a new category to honour its successes. And a thousand flouncing thespians snip their academy membership cards up in protest).
Desperate Scousewives is the latest entrant into the fray, flying up on the standside rails like a thoroughbred at Aintree Ladies Day. Presumably the title preceded any format development, perhaps bounding forth from a list that included Home And A Weymouth and a racy chronicle of the Libidinous Residents of Ruislip, Middlesex And The City.
The show has already proved itself to be impressively offensive. A Liverpool MP has expressed his distaste even before the first episode has been aired, warning that this type of programming serves to bolster regional stereotypes. He is clearly familiar with the conventions of structured reality television, and the requirement to gather its protagonists in small herds of class and geography. Obviously he must watch The Only Way Is Essex in the TV room at the House of Commons. Or brought up to consider that televisions shows are like hair salons, never trust one with a pun in its name.
The first thing to note on watching the programme last night is that no actual wives appear during the action. So if you've tuned in to nurture your strange fetish for married women then switch over to Wife Swap or The Good Wife. There are, however, an abundance of Scousers. All of whom, it hardly needs commenting, are desperate.
Judging by its opening gambit, Scousewives clings safely to the template laid down by its southern cousins in Essex and Chelsea, opening with a conformist series of oddly stunted conversational scenes resembling the awkward preliminary stages of a porn film, and concluding with some party or function to usher in the histrionics. Which were provided in the large part by Amanda Harrington, who like the remaining desperate Scousespinsters, looks as if she fell through the trapdoor at the Hollyoaks auditions. Provoked by some unflattering tweeting by a man purporting to be 'officially Britain's most brutal blogger' (although he's yet to offer the correct documentation to support that claim), she flung a beaker of booze at him. And missed.
It remains to be seen whether the series will miss. Based on the relative popularity of its progenitors, it will probably scrounge together a suitable digital audience. Guilty folk who claim to hate everything it stands for, while furtively flicking over to it, like a vegetarian nibbling on bacon in the shadows of the pantry. And its cast will take their steps on the road to minor celebrity. Maybe finishing up, like their tangerine gods Amy Childs and Mark Wright before them, back in the shoebox.