Putting the ‘real’ into reality TV


REALITY TV has to be the most ironically named television genre ever, given its tendency to show the most unrealistic, overly dramatic version possible of what would actually happen in a given situation. Let’s face it, Hogan’s Heroes was more factual than most of these shows.

Yet somehow, it’s become so pervasive that there seems to be a ‘reality’ show for every possible interest – music, cooking, getting stranded on a desert island, and of course, a subject very near and dear to all our hearts, the automobile.

I was pretty late on the uptake with most of these shows as I’ve never had cable TV. I got my info the old-fashioned way – from car magazines. Then a friend of mine dropped off some DVDs of the first few seasons of American Hot Rod. I sat there and absorbed them in a day or two, watching Boyd Coddington and his crew bitching and arguing their way through some pretty cool builds.

After three or four TV episodes – about six or seven weeks in real time – they rolled out some pretty nice cars, but the problem was you never really got to see how it all went together. Sure, you got to see people yell at each other when something went wrong, but then in the next scene the car would suddenly be painted, trimmed, just about ready to go out the door and everyone was happy again. Until the next episode.

Would it hurt for shows like this to actually contain a little educational content, instead of dumbing it down for the lowest common denominator? Some of the genuine blood, sweat and tears that goes into car building? I reckon there are plenty of real situations that we’ve all been in before, which, with some slick production and a bit of hair and make-up, would make for entertaining viewing.

The ‘I Don’t Need No Stinking List’ episode: You know how this goes. You head off to the parts shop with a short of list of things you really need, but as soon as you go through the door you see the big shiny display of cleaning products or super-special deals on 20W-50 oil. So you get some of that, maybe a can of satin black spray paint – because you can never have enough – and then you grab a few of those bolts you were after, even though you never really measured how long they needed to be.

Walking up to the counter you spot the little cardboard display with the glue that promises to stick anything back together. Yep, better get some of that to fix that self-cancelling indicator that hasn’t cancelled for three years, and oh goodie, an LED torch. Yep, grab that too.

Of course, you get home, the bolts are too short, and the fuses and roll of red wire you really needed to get the car going are still back on the shelf.

The ‘Phone Always Rings At The Worst Time’ episode: You’re head down, bum up in the engine bay trying to get some stubborn, fiddly part. You’ve got your Mechanix gloves on, because in reality you’re an office Johnny with delicate fingers from years of tapping on soft-touch keyboards, and the edges of those hex-head bolts are sharp.

The phone rings, and since we’ve all become conditioned to being on-call at all times, you feel the need to answer it at all costs.

After smacking your head on one of those scone-impaling Holden bonnet latches, you don’t have time to take your gloves off, so you fumble through a layer of overalls to get to your jeans pocket and pull out your fancy smartphone. Which, of course, doesn’t work worth a damn when you’re wearing fireproof gloves. You miss the call. Should’ve just kept working.

The ‘I’m Wearing This New White T-shirt So I Won’t Do Anything Dirty’ episode: I don’t think I own a white T-shirt that doesn’t have some kind of oil, transmission fluid or paint stain on it somewhere (usually on the guts). You know the deal, you say to the wife: “I’m just going to go out and clean the windows on the car.”

Before you know it you’ve given the whole car a full detail job, you’re sweating like crazy and you’ve got dirt and dried-up polish all over your brand-new Chesty Bonds. So you think, stuff it, I’m dirty now, might as well get those front wheels off and regrease the bearings.

Of course, all of these situations would have to be interspersed with the missus asking why it’s taking so long to get back from the shops or out of the garage, and the kids interrupting you because they need a ball/tyre/wading pool pumped up – or more likely, some argument settled over whose turn it is to pick the TV show they’re watching.

Hang on – interruptions, wives, whinging kids; it really is starting to sound like one of those reality TV shows. Maybe I’m onto something here!