THE APPRENTICE ... REALLY

THE APPRENTICE … REALLY?

Sat through the first episode of The Apprentice tonight but I’m not sure I can be bothered pursuing it to the end because it’s so irritatingly phoney. 

The reason I’m interested is that I’m a media and presentation trainer, and reality TV shows give you a real insight into how producers think that audiences think. 

Yes, you read that right. Not how audiences think but how producers think they think. So they think we want young would-be entrepreneurs to be ridiculous stereotypes of a 1980s Gordon Gecko-style capitalist, as depicted in the film Wall Street (“greed is good”) 

Actually, we (forgive my presumption – I) would rather see people as they really are, or considerably closer to reality than the caricatures in Lord Sugar’s pantomime. 

Successful drama and news, and by extension all other media and performance, including when you speak to a live audience or make a video on your phone, obey the same basic rules of engagement. 

Good old Aristotle, the ancient Greek dude, was the first to say that the audience in a successful performance should feel “pity and terror”. 

Nowadays we call our feelings for the protagonists empathy rather than pity; and we feel excitement rather than terror because our favourites are in danger, but it’s the same idea. 

To keep any audience’s attention you need jeopardy – “pay attention or something bad might happen” – and you need to feel kindly enough towards the participants that you care if they live or die. 

The trouble with The Apprentice is that they get both the pity and the terror wrong. They think we will relate better to physically beautiful people. Well, that may be so. But why have so many of the women clearly had “work done”? Is that what you need to be beautiful? It seems sad to me, at my advanced age, that so many young people feel they need Botox lips and an Essex tan to feel “right”. And why does a “business” programme need to go in for beauty-based casting anyway? It’s not Love Island! 

The terror part – well, bitching anyway – was achieved by giving them difficult tasks and delighting in them failing, under the grumpy eyes of Karren and Claude. They were also made to argue with each other a lot and act as foils for Lord Sugar’s bad-tempered Cockney wit. 

And a lot of the setup schtick is phoney. The Boardroom scenes are filmed in a TV studio in West London, as are the”doom cafe” sequences. The drone shots of high buildings around Canary Wharf are supposed to give you the impression that that’s where Lord Sugar’s HQ is. Actually, it’s in Essex, and no filming takes place there. 

Oh, and did you notice that the costumes are colour-coordinated? 

I’d be interested to know what others think. But I reckon that programme-makers, when they are giving you their interpretation of reality, have a duty to make it reflect some kind of objective truth. 

I think that Strictly Come Dancing, The Great British Bake-Off and The Repair Shop – even though they have their faults too – come much closer to telling the truth than The Apprentice. What do you think?