Viewers 'buying into reality TV'

REALITY makeover TV audiences are aware they and the shows' participants are being manipulated by producers but remain committed to the possibilities of self-improvement, says a University of Auckland professor.

Professor Katherine Sender has written the book The Makeover - Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences based on the views of United States audiences on four makeover shows: The Biggest Loser, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Starting Over and Trinny and Susannah's What Not to Wear.

Audiences were savvy when it came to reality television, the media studies professor said.

"They know that producers cast candidates who will perform for the cameras, and that shows are scripted to some extent, and certainly edited, for maximum drama."

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But audiences bought into the premise that consumption was the answer to a person's problems in life.

"They would say 'that's the wrong outfit or that's too expensive' but they wouldn't say 'why do people need to shop to feel better about themselves?"'

It's the first book to consider the rapid rise of makeover reality television from an audience perspective.

The results came from 110 regular viewers and 20 others who were not fans and were more cynical about consumption, a sentiment more likely to be echoed by New Zealand viewers, Professor Sender said.

"I find New Zealand to be a much less consumer-oriented country than the States."

Originally from Britain, Professor Sender lived in the US for 20 years, and relocated to Auckland 12 months ago.

"People aren't so ostentatious in general and don't show their money off as much and it's a more casual culture so I would hope that even when people enjoy the shows they are more sceptical about a lot of the content."

In New Zealand, reality makeover shows were more likely to be about houses.

"We're like the Brits, we really care about our homes and the Americans really care about what they look like."

New Zealand also has its own version of Starting Over.

Sian Jaquet, life coach on New Zealand's Starting Over, said she worked on the show because of the integrity behind it.

"It was about working with people who genuinely wanted to make a difference in people's lives."

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