The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Paradise Island, Married At First Sight … the list goes on. Australia, and beyond, is interested in reality television romances. Do audiences love them out of hope for a “happily ever after” or is it more a fascination with watching others put themselves in awkward and cringe-worthy situations? Either way, fans across the nation tune in to these shows every week, sometimes every single day.
I was first wowed by the magic of television when I was 10 years old and went to stay with my cousin, who was a make-up artist on a drama program called E-Street.
I sat beside actors and actresses in the make-up room and watched as they were cosmetically transformed into their character.
I walked through the sets, saw the racks of costumes and stood beneath the harsh lights the actors had to perform under. As I watched scenes be filmed and actors turn into someone else right in front of my eyes, I was mesmerised.
This experience definitely sparked my love for film and television.
During my teenage years, my parents bought our local video store and I had a shop full of movies to watch for free. As DVDs started replacing VHS, I devoured the bonus features that DVDs offered to look behind the scenes or listen to the director’s commentary.
At university I studied television production and realised the area I was most passionate about was story and writing.
I was lucky enough to land a job straight out of university and ended up working in the script department of programs such as All Saints and Home And Away. Despite this, entire subjects at university were dedicated to lighting, sound and editing, all of which gave me a good grasp of how each of these elements impact a final production, even a reality show.
The first reality television show I remember watching was Survivor (starting a long love affair with this franchise). Soon after, the next big reality program was Big Brother. My entire dorm at university would fill our common room to watch this together.
And then came The Bachelor, a show that presented 25 women to one man in the hope that he would find his happily ever after with one of them.
Like so many across the nation, I love to tune in to a reality television show.
Friends in my local hometown have loosely formed a “Bach Club”, where we get together with champagne and cheese to watch season premieres, finales or anything in between.
On nights we can’t meet in person, my phone chimes as we commentate on what’s happening on screen.
Inspiration for The One was sparked after conversations with such friends about the production of these shows.
Most viewers at home don’t think about the camera, lighting and sound guys, all of whom are only steps away from the “stars”. They don’t think about the producers handing the contestants flutes of champagne as they encourage them to approach the love interest or confront another contestant.
And many probably don’t consider the editor, who splices pieces of film together to keep the pace of the drama exciting (not to mention the use of slow-motion or surging music). The whole production is an art; one I appreciate for all the elements involved.
I realised my insider knowledge about production techniques might form a good backbone for a fiction novel.
Audiences may think they want characters to be happy … but happy on screen or on the page is boring. Drama has the audience sitting on the edge of their seats or turning pages late into the night.
I started dabbling in ideas for a story based around a reality television dating show. The first character that came to me was Darcy Reed, an ambitious field producer on a dating show called The One, seeking out a promotion and continually faced with moral dilemmas.
She takes a liking to Bonnie, one of the contestants, but it isn’t her job to play cupid to just one of the girls on the show. I also decided to explore the notion of whether these types of shows make people crave romance.
Darcy is surrounded by “staged” romance at work, yet her own relationship with her long-term boyfriend is almost flatlining.
Are viewers at home sprinkling rose petals across their bed or filling their lounge room with candles in hopes of sparking a bit of romance?
I’m very aware that viewers often wonder why anyone would go on a dating show. I knew I needed to develop a character that readers would like, as there’s something about having a favourite on a reality show and hoping they’ll win or find true love.
From this, I wrote the character of Bonnie Yates, who is on the wrong side of 30 and has the tendency to fall for the wrong guys, but who is desperate for a happily ever after. Bonnie is a little bit like a fish out of water on the show, but I hope this will be appealing for readers cheering her along.
I know viewers aren’t always proud of their reality television viewing habits, but I believe shows like my imagined The One offer viewers harmless escapism as they identify with the triumphs and failures of the contestants.
I’m so grateful for the experience I had working behind the scenes. I hope readers of The One will enjoy this aspect too.
The One by Kaneana May, published by HarperCollins, is out now
BOOK OF THE MONTH
This month’s Book Of The Month is Devil’s Lair by Sarah Barrie. Set against the magnificent backdrop of the Tasmanian wilderness, this entralling psycholigical thriller is guaranteed to keep you reading well into the early hours — if you dare. Sunday Book Club readers can get a 30 per cent discount at Utopia by using the code NCBT19. And don’t forget to talk romance, mystery and all things books at The Sunday Book Club on Facebook.