Saturday, October 09, 2010

Seven Days - a study of sudden celebrity in slo-mo

Seven Days promotional image

Finally managed to catch up with Channel 4's new reality TV show, Seven Days, which I'd thought I'd missed (having wrongly inferred from the title that it was stripped across a single week...)

Apart from finding it more engaging than I'd expected, what really struck me whilst watching it was how the nature of the format means it very quickly becomes less a study of regular people and their daily interactions and more a real-time examination of the impact of suddenly becoming a public figure / minor celebrity.

While contestants on other reality formats like Big Brother are well aware that simply taking part in the show will have turned them into overnight celebrities, they are usually shielded from the consequences of that new status (aside from a few overheard boos on eviction night) until they emerge from the experience (whereupon it no doubt hits them like a tidal wave, as they wade their way through the tabloid backlog).

Seven Days is different in exposing the participants to their developing public profile in real-time and letting them choose whether to let that feedback loop moderate their behaviour or not. What's more, it's a cocktail not just of the usual tabloid fare, but also of comments from Joe Public via the moderated ChatNav service and the unmoderated wilds of Twitter.

We're only three weeks in but it's already interesting to see the different participants (I like the fact C4 has hosted their profiles in a /characters directory - hopefully a knowing nod to the inherent artifice of TV portrayals...) respond very differently to the feedback they're receiving. Whilst Susanne appears to be deriving a new found confidence from her feedback (to finally challenge her son to move out), Samantha's feedback has put her in a tail spin about whether she cares what people think of her or not.

Whereas Big Brother was always rich with the reality TV equivalent of dramatic irony, as the participants carried on oblivious both to the public reaction to their actions and to many of the on-camera actions of their housemates, Seven Days affords the participants equal access to the public's perceptions and the broadcast behaviour of the show's other participants (so Hannah will see/hear Ben describe her as a "bronze medal"...)

It's almost like the mirror image of The Truman Show, where complete obliviousness has been switched out for maximum awareness of their daily lives as national spectacle.

As Matt Locke (Acting Head of Crossplatform at Channel 4) acknowledges, the formula's probably not 100% right yet, but it's certainly one of the most ambitious attempts to date to try and harness the differing (and to my mind complimentary) strengths of broadcast and IP to create a genuine feedback loop, with many thousands of viewers also acting as contributors/influencers.

Whilst there's already speculation that the show may not have delivered large enough audiences to secure its future, I'd be intrigued to see how this dynamic evolves in the longer term as the participants' lives become increasingly affected by their new found fame.