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Victor Lewis-Smith's column: Reality behind naff TV; HE NEEDS A CHECK-UP FROM THE NECK UP.

Byline: Victor Lewis-Smith

WHAT a pity that the swimming pool outside the Big Brother house doesn't have a mirrored floor.

If it did, I'm sure that the narcissistic contestants, being so terminally vain, would become transfixed by their own images the first time they went in for a dip, never to surface again.

And dead air would certainly be a great improvement on the conversations we'll have to endure over the next nine weeks.

Despite the hype, Big Brother has never been "reality television". How could it be, when the programme is heavily edited, and the E4 live stream is constantly having its audio switched off, to smother the sort of libellous remarks that crop up in ordinary speech every few minutes?

No, true reality television could only occur if everything was broadcast, without any censorship at all, and I'm pleased to tell you that such a station now exists. It's called Friendly TV (Sky digital 268), and it transmits everything that anyone says, not because it's braver than other channels, but because this ramshackle station has only been on air for 10 days, and the staff can't work the equipment properly.

This week, I acquired a tape of their morning News Hound programme, in which two presenters discuss the contents of the day's newspapers, and try to make contact with the living.

One is Paul Lavers, former star of QVC and Ideal World, and the other is a female suffering from a bad case of mistaken nonentity, who was stunned into reverential silence when Lavers mentioned that he "used to work at Anglia Television".

At one point, he mentioned that he knew something about Nicole Kidman, but "I can't share it because they'd sue me," after which the station went to a commercial break.

But because nobody remembered to turn down the microphones, anyone listening could clearly hear the following conversation: "She's a *******... yes, I know someone who works for her... she ****** **** ****... and apparently Tom Cruise is ***** ****... what else have we got left, we're a bit short... have we had any texts in today? None? Oh... we should go home now shouldn't we? Oh dear (yawn)."

After which came the exquisite sound of Mr Lavers answering the phone and being told that everything he'd just said had been transmitted.

Of course, a cunning lawyer might argue that this wasn't technically a slander, because slanders can only occur in public, and nobody watches Friendly TV.

But it seems like a cast-iron defamation case to me, and I have the tape. So Nicole and Tom, if you'd like to get together for one last time to file a joint suit, I'll be happy to loan you the VHS, for a mere 20 per cent of the damages.

MY point (and I do have one) is that, through sheer incompetence, this station actually does provide us with reality TV.

Admittedly, their mikes are often switched off when they are supposed to be broadcasting, at which times only lip readers can benefit from their searing analysis.

But that's a small price to pay for a chance to see television that hasn't been sterilised and homogenised for us first. Like fresh milk, it's past your eyes without having been pasteurised. However, spare a thought if you will for poor Mr Lavers, one of TV's most tragic characters. In a parallel universe, he would be Chris Tarrant, but the vicissitudes of fate have decreed that he will forever be a highly-trained professional working on unwatched stations alongside rank amateurs.

During his training, long ago, he was doubtless told: "When you broadcast, imagine that you're talking to just one person."

Nowadays, he doesn't need to imagine. Incidentally, the man makes no secret of the fact that he once had an operation to replace his diseased oesophagus with part of his colon.

So if Tom and Nicole do bring a case, he'll be able to claim that he was talking out of his arse.
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 24, 2003
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