LONDON — Can a reality TV program be a ratings champ and serve the public at the same time?
That’s the question on the minds of webheads at Channel 4 with the net’s new reality skein “Dumped.”
The premise of the show is that 11 contestants are challenged to survive on a garbage heap for three weeks, building a shelter and other living areas from people’s trash. The scrap heap in question was specially constructed for TV, and it looks like the players don’t have to scavenge too hard to find the right materials to make an outdoor home likely to survive the 21-day challenge.
The heavily promoted “Dumped” is one of the web’s flagship fall shows and bows just as the latest season of “Big Brother” exits with ratings down markedly from last year. The downward spike in viewers for “Big Brother” is giving rise to strenuously denied rumors that the station is about to cancel the Endemol reality juggernaut, which is Channel 4’s biggest earner.
Long gone are those far off days when “Big Brother” was sold to audiences and critics as a responsible experiment in social interaction. In these online hyper-competitive times, “Big Brother” offers no pretense that its purpose is anything other than to provide sexed-up, voyeuristic entertainment for the demographically desirable under-35s.
Not so with “Dumped,” which in tune with the global warming zeitgeist, attempts to give auds a salutary lesson in recycling the contents of theirs and other people’s trash cans.
In Europe recycling is the flavor of the month. Alas, the Brits fall behind their greener continental cousins in bothering to cut their carbon footprint by ensuring their rubbish is put to good use; Brits only recycle around a quarter of our waste, much less than what the Dutch and Austrians manage.
The idea to instill some practical green values in today’s twenty- and thirtysomethings is laudable, but frankly, as one TV critic noted, the participants in “Dumped” look like “Big Brother” rejects and part-time models.
In fact, “Dumped” not only carries echoes of “Big Brother,” but also contains elements of other tried-and-tested reality warhorses that force contestants to rough it, such as “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” and even “The Apprentice” — in that these part-time eco-warriors have a tendency to be young and attractive.
Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that “Dumped” aspires to educate as well as to entertain. It doesn’t seem to be working though, as it tries to accomplish too much and ends up not delivering on either.
Several years ago, a more confident Channel 4 turned an important social issue — the abysmal nutritional quality of British school meals — into riveting television in “Jamie’s School Dinners,” presented by Blighty’s most charming celebrity TV chef, Jamie Oliver.
“Jamie’s School Dinners” brilliantly squared the circle between entertainment and public service, so much so that it persuaded the British government to invest in improving the fare offered at school dining tables.
You suspect that Channel 4 would’ve spent a lot of time wondering how they could pull off the same trick by taking an environmental issue and frame it within the context of an entertainment show.
“Dumped,” already dismissed by TV critics as “rubbish TV,” is no “Jamie’s Kitchen,” and neither is it the kind of format that either Endemol or RDF Media, makers of “Wife Swap” and “Faking It” would covet.