Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Czech reality

As I type this, the action is getting hotter on TV Prima. Bad guy Vladko, quite possibly the next person to be eliminated from "VyVoleni", is snapping at his roommates for various transgressions, real and imagined. They are giving it back to him just as hard. Vladko's bitchy mood is understandable - he's been selected for elimination in a vote conducted among the remaining residents of the VyVoleni house. He is now to go to the weekly "duel", the final stage of the elimination round, in which the selected victim chooses another resident to debate live on TV. The loser, elected by a phone-in vote among the viewership, is banished from the house and forfeits his/her chance at the big, 11 million crown prize.
Meanwhile, one channel away on TV Nova, tomorrow during the evening hours will feature the resiliently popular "Big Brother Uncensored", which lately has been dominated by heavy nudity n' sex among the closeted residents of the Big Brother House.

It's a little late, but the Czechs have finally, inevitably, gotten their first dose of reality TV. And a lot of it. The two private terrestrial channels, Prima and Nova, both introduced their respective shows at roughly the same time earlier this autumn. Both are wildly popular, as are the connected Web sites that let viewers peeping tom (for a price) throughout the two houses during non-broadcasting hours.

VyVoleni has generally been the more popular of the two, scoring the highest Czech TV viewership rating ever in a recent broadcast. Its edge seems to be blunting, though, as the Big Brother residence - more of a closeted hothouse than its counterpart - has been the scene of several small-scale orgies among the contestants late at night. TV Nova happily broadcasts the highlights of these adventures on its "Uncensored" broadcasts, the audiences for which, not surprisingly, have been growing.

On the surface, there is nothing particularly Czech about either show. "Big Brother", of course, is the latest franchise of the well-travelled Dutch export. VyVoleni basically sticks to the same successful formula; trap a group of people in a house, have them scheme and manipulate to be the last one remaining in order to claim the final prize, put elimination to a public vote, broadcast the results and watch the fun.

But the two have several enormous advantages in this country, which have helped move them out of the realm of simple TV to a common subject of office, tram and pub conversation. First of all, there are only four free TV stations in the country, two of which are state-owned and - theoretically - reserved for public-interest programming (CT 1 and 2 are based on BBC 1 and 2 in the UK). The broadcasts on both CTs aren't bad, but they can't compete with the marketing, flash and sex appeal of Prima and Nova, both of which are operated by deep-pocketed foreign companies.

Another great edge both shows have is the very relaxed attitude Czechs have towards flesh and sin in general. Nudity isn't that big a deal here. Families swim and sunbathe nude on lakes together, topless women serve beer on selected nights in "nahore bez" pubs. No one seems to mind. On a darker note, infidelity is more common and casual in this country than it is elsewhere. Both "VyVoleni" and "Big Brother" have gotten slap-on-the-wrist fines from the TV watchdog agency for "indecent" programming, but those amounts are a drop in the ocean compared to how much the broadcasters are raking in from the advertising.

I don't watch either of the two shows much, to be truthful. I don't call the 900 numbers to vote, either. I take a look once in a while, around elimination time, or, er, when "Big Brother" gets uncensored. But this reality wave, currently receding West of here, isn't close to cresting here yet. I have plenty of time to take a look.

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