How Gordon Ramsay Is Ruining Reality TV
As a TV producer working in the US I’m always meeting with talent, often for a potential docu-soap or reality series. Personal trainers, rodeo riders, chefs and psychics – you come across all different types of people and professions in TV. Most people are friendly and at the very least potentially interested in taking part in a show. But after working in the industry for over 15 years I can say one thing with absolute certainty – persuading people to take part in a TV series is undoubtedly harder now then when I first started out.
Now there are probably a hundred reasons why this is the case. TV has definitely lost some of its glamour and with so many channels and so many shows airing, being on TV isn’t the amazing, one in a million experience it once was. People are definitely skeptical – and in an era of car crash TV who can blame them!
But if I had to pinpoint the one man who’s done more damage to the reality TV industry than any other there’d be no hesitation. When it comes to making my job infinitely harder he’s the main culprit. So thank you Gordon Ramsay!
I would say 9 times out of 10 when I meet with people I hear a variation of the following. ‘It’s not going to be like Hells Kitchen is it’ or ‘you’re not looking for a Gordon Ramsay type are you’ or ‘this isn’t going to damage my business is it?’
Between his two shows – Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay has perfected a particular type of shtick that most right-minded viewers loathe – but still manage to attract a hardcore audience of millions. Sadly it’s the same audience who is still enthralled by COPS after 22 seasons on the air, love a bit of Jerry Springer (years after everyone else gave up on the joke) and regard Cheaters as a thrilling portrait of marital infidelity. They’re all one-note shows – and when it comes to reality TV characters no one is more one note than Gordon Ramsay.
Which is a real shame as underneath the cartoonish TV persona is a very talented chef who when produced correctly can make for great TV. When Kitchen Nightmares first launched in England 6 years ago it was genuine and real TV, investigating rundown restaurants that desperately needed expert advice. Those that listened to Gordon’s advice generally survived – and those that didn’t – well they really didn’t deserve to stay in business anyway. In those days Ramsay was a culinary Simon Cowell – brash, loud and brutally honest – but underneath it all – a truth teller. You wanted to listen to what he had to say and it felt like he genuinely cared for the businesses he tried to help and the food industry in general.
But somewhere along the way Ramsay the chef became Ramsay the TV star. When Hell’s Kitchen first launched in the UK back in 2004 the stage was already set for theater as Gordon trained soap stars, comedians and Belinda Carlisle in running a bustling London kitchen. 4 of the 11 celebrities quit in the first 8 days (surely a reality show record), and soap star Amanda Barrie made headlines for trying to slap Ramsay across the face. But still there was at least a glimmer of reality beneath the shenanigans.
However upon moving across the pond in 2005 Gordon’s act has become more and more for the cameras and less and less about the food. Hells Kitchen is now just shouty and obnoxious pantomime – a non-stop procession of feckless contestants being berated and sworn at by Ramsay to dulling effect. Meanwhile Kitchen Nightmares must rank as one of the most scripted and fake reality shows out there – centering less and less on the food and more and more the colorful family lives of the business owners themselves. And who in their right mind would allow their restaurant to feature on the show in the first place if they weren’t an absolutely desperate TV wannabe? But at the end of the day millions of people still seem to like the act – no matter how tiresome it becomes. Kitchen Nightmares is on its third season and Hell’s Kitchen has been renewed through season 8. Which means I’m going to have to put up with a lot more freaked out potential TV people thinking that reality TV starts and ends with Gordon Ramsay.
What frustrates me is that Ramsay is just one (well two) shows in a TV landscape that literally contains hundreds of series. To dismiss the whole genre based on one bad egg is like saying you don’t like comedy based on Two and a Half Men. I get quite defensive of reality TV because a) I’ve made it my stock business and I know how hard it is to make – and yet how easy it looks on screen and b) because when most people say they ‘hate’ reality TV – it turns out they don’t really watch very much of it.
Now I really can’t defend Ramsay – but Project Runway is a jewel in the reality TV crown – real, well produced, inventive and about creative people who are genuinely talented at their craft. Pawn Stars on History is a smart, fresh way of getting people to look at antiques in a brand new light – it’s Antiques Roadshow with a contemporary sheen. Bravo may makes the Real Housewives series, which I honestly can’t fathom, but Kell On Earth feels legitimate, high stakes and an insider peek inside the PR industry. Even the much-maligned Dog The Bounty Hunter has some merit in my eyes – doubtless there’s some behind the scenes trickery but the core and essence of the show feel real and Dog and his family are strong TV characters.
So for anyone out there thinking of taking part in a TV show and put off by the likes of Gordon Ramsay please think again. He doesn’t speak for the genre as a whole and even us in the industry itself roll our eyes at his antics. It’s not all about the F word.
But what do you think? Are you a Ramsay fan? What reality shows do you rate – and which do you think bite the big one… please weigh in…
|Print article||This entry was posted by Richard Drew on April 27, 2010 at 10:12 am, and is filed under OPINION, REALITY. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|
about 2 years ago - No comments
The British are coming!
Well actually we’ve been here for a while…
Lask week it was announced that Paul Lee, the British executive currently running ABC Family, would be moving to ABC to take over the seat recently vacated by rumor plagued Entertainment President Stephen McPherson. Paul is seen as a rising star in the industry and come with an enviable track record.
Also in the headlines is fellow Brit Nigel Lythgoe, the So You Think You Can Dance judge who’s heading back to his old stomping ground at American Idol to try and rescue the ‘sinking’ ship – and sort out the biggest talent vacuum on American TV – who will replace Simon Cowell (another Brit – are you seeing the pattern here!)
Add into the mix: Mark Burnett (the reality guru behind The Apprentice, Survivor and, ahem, Pirate Master!); Gordon Ramsay (who with Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef and Kitchen Nightmares now has three successful franchises on Fox); Dan Cutforth of Magical Elves (the company behind Top Chef and Project Runway); Michael Davies (the game show king behind Who Wants To Be A Millionaire); Ricky Gervais… the list goes on and on…
about 2 years ago - 1 comment
Regular readers of Remote Patrolled know I’m not a huge fan of Hell’s Kitchen or its shouty star Gordon Ramsay (see my Brit of Reality posting for more)
But last night’s show featured something we’re not used to seeing – a contestant giving Ramsay an earful and actually fighting back!
Check out Nilka, who royally screws up in the kitchen but when chef Ramsay tries to chuck her out – refuses to leave! Love it…
Nilka seems a pretty sweet lady though – and it was nice to see a moment of redemption at the end of the episode as Gordon leaves behind the one note nastiness and is actually encouraging for once… It’s the Ramsay I’m used to seeing in the UK – but which got jettisoned here in the US in favor of over the top theatrics…
But what do you think? Have you been following this season of Hell’s Kitchen… and what did you think of last night’s show?