Sunday, May 29, 2011

Geordie Shore

"If you’re a Geordie, you need a tan: no true Geordie goes around looking like a ghost". That pearl of wisdom came from one of the cast of Geordie Shore. It was one of the few coherent sentences in the first episode.

For those who don’t normally watch MTV, here’s the plot: four pneumatic North East girls with fake tans are in a posh house with four bare-chested boys and a fridge full of booze. They get drunk, vomit, and have sex under duvets. That’s it.

It’s appalling. The cast generates no empathy, their characters portrayed as ignorant, unattractive and interested only in getting laid.

Putting a whole new spin on the slogan Passionate People, Passionate Places, this is possibly the worst kind of publicity for our region. It portrays Newcastle as home to loud, loose, shallow, orange-tanned morons.

This kind of reality television is far from new. In fact, I have a terrible confession: I kicked off the whole phenomenon in 2003 when I produced a show in the United States called Paradise Hotel. The concept was similar: put young people in luxury and they’ll soon drive each other mad. We shot it with multiple hidden cameras; there were relationships and tears. It was a ratings triumph.

There was a big difference, though: we didn’t use booze to generate the drama, instead relying on clever casting. A plain, rather overweight boy called Dave and a strange but gentle girl called Charla were set within a company of busty blondes and beach bums. For an entire summer the show was on everyone’s lips – people threw Paradise Hotel parties on elimination nights. When Charla ditched Dave in the final episode, it made the New York Times.

The following year MTV produced Laguna Beach, with spoilt kids from Orange County. It was about romance, unrequited love and rivalries, set against a backdrop of wealth. But in 2009 MTV decided to reinvent the concept as something more gritty. Their target was the working class Italian-American community of Jersey Shore: loud and uninhibited, without self-consciousness or shame. It broke ratings records and now they’re repeating the formula over here, with what they consider the ultimate dumb, drunk stereotype: the Geordie.

Our local media has buzzed with indignation. “Why Newcastle? They could have done it in Liverpool.” Well one reason is that the production company is based in Liverpool and they’d be drummed out of town if they did this to their own city. They also produce The Only Way Is Essex.

“This isn’t a true picture”, say the critics. Are they blind? Take a tour of the Bigg Market zoo any weekend evening. Jo and I often drive visitors there to see the animals: men and women naked, urinating openly in the street, unspeakable acts taking place in broad daylight.

So who is guilty? Not MTV, for sure. What is our elected council doing to protect the image of our city? Licensing countless clubs and bars to serve unlimited drinks at a pound a time? Turning a blind eye to the weekend debauchery? Well now we’re reaping the consequences. We’ve got our party city, and a reputation to match.

How can Newcastle limit the damage? The last thing it needs is an MP asking questions in the House of Commons. More publicity equals higher ratings.

Those really offended by Geordie Shore might learn a lesson from Paradise Hotel. It was the biggest hit of the summer, but wasn't renewed. The reason: just a few conservative people wrote to complain about the show to the network’s key advertisers who, fearing the association would damage their brands, pulled their commercials. Without ad revenue, the network was forced to cancel the second series.

One of the advertisers of Geordie Shore, on the web if not the TV series, is the health drink Lucozade. The company that makes it, GlaxoSmithKline, says it is “committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer”. I doubt that its chairman, Sir Christopher Gent, would think this aim was being furthered by a television programme that idolizes young people who get utterly intoxicated on cheap vodka and indulge in loveless sex with complete strangers.

Sir Christopher is in his 60s and has two young children. It's unlikely he knows that his adverts for Lucozade are helping to pay for Geordie Shore. Any real Geordies reading this might like to enlighten him.

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