Before the gaudy chavs of TOWIE start mugging each other off the viewer is presented with a disclaimer. It states even though the people are real, 'some of what they do has been set up purely for your entertainment'. The producers are upfront about the manipulated storylines and it hasn't hurt the franchise one bit. Twelve seasons in and the botoxed lovechild of Dynasty and Birds of a Feather is still going strong.
Long before the invention of television there has been a fascination with storytelling. Early civilizations suspended their disbelief around a campfire in order to enjoy a good yarn. An able storyteller can take us on a fantastic journey using just words. We are willing participants, happy to enjoy the ride, as long as we know we are not being taken for one.
There is a very definite line between a story and a lie. A story is set up to entertain and inform; a lie to deliberately deceive. Other TV shows marketed as reality are largely contrived. Should they follow TOWIE's lead and carry a disclaimer?
Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor are regularly accused of blurring the lines of reality. It's widely reported that auditioning acts are known to the production team before they take to the stage and make their all-important first impression.
Primetime TV is not worthy, it's disposable fun. The production team should absolutely cherry-pick acts they think will brighten up a Saturday night broadcast but they should be open about it. The masses demand to be entertained, they don't demand or deserve to be lied to.
TV Talent shows share a greater goal than finding the next barmaid with a bland ambition. Their main aim is to motivate viewers in paying to vote for their favourite act. The more votes cast, the bigger the profits so they need to keep the peasants pledging their allegiance. To do this, they create a story and hook us in with the emotional arc of a contestant's journey. Sob stories and harsh comments are triggers to get us to invest in the characters and ultimately Cowell Jr's trust fund.
The shows are becoming increasingly contrived and without a disclaimer they are misleading. They sail very close to OFCOM guideline 2.14:
Broadcasters must ensure that viewers and listeners are not materially misled about any broadcast competition or voting.
If contested, ITV's lawyers may argue the same line of defence as Coke when they faced a lawsuit against Vitaminwater. Consumers took issue with it not being as healthy as its label implied. Coke's argument: "no consumer could reasonably be misled into thinking Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage." Basically, they can say what they want and if you're stupid enough to believe it, it's your fault. The blatant contrivance of The X Factor would easily support a similar argument.
Watch The X Factor for pure entertainment. The producers clearly know how to spin a good soap opera out of cheesy court jesters and council house crooners. Laugh, cheer and tweet along with the chorus but if you feel your voting finger start to twitch, hit the mute button.
It's nothing new. Politicians, priests and psychics have been pitching fiction as fact since the earth was flat. Just assume all you see and hear comes with its own disclaimer. Question everything and everyone from newsreaders to talent show judges. Apart from those gaudy chavs in Essex. Like the Ronseal they use to coat their exteriors, they do exactly what they say on the tin. Gawd bless 'em.