Reality TV Case Study – Educating Essex

Assignment 2 – Cross Media Study.

  • Genre: Reality TV
  • Focus: Institution and Representation

Educating Essex was a fly on the wall show about a group of students who were heading towards their final GCSE exams. It featured their relationships with their mates, the school and their teachers. It would have appealed to a wide audience as most people who have an interest in their children’s education, or are nostalgic about their own school days are interested to see how modern schools work.

Although promoted as a documentary by Channel 4 in the autumn of 2011, it falls into the docusoap Reality TV format like Traffic Cops and Vets in Practice; narratives based on the daily lives of students and teachers. This format is beneficial to TV production companies as, apart from placing cameras, there is little start-up cost to this type of programme. There are no big celebrity salaries to pay, there is little pre-production cost for things like screen-writing and storyboarding and the controversial yet personal content permits lots of opportunity for spin-offs and viewer interaction.

Although largely commercially self-funded, Channel 4 has a public service obligation – to provide programs of educative value; its programmes have to be entertaining for the channel to survive yet informative to meet its remit. Education Essex met both those objectives in one program.

The launch of this programme was covered by both the tabloids and the broadsheet newspapers who took different views of the show: the Mail Online (23 September 2011) suggested the current state of education was shocking with students described as ‘bullying, teenage pregnancy and young girls caked with make-up’ and teachers as ‘extremely childish’ whereas The Guardian TV and Radio Blog published selected responses from viewers which suggested a more philosophical view of modern education where a teacher recognised the ‘tenacious attitude of the teachers’ and another ‘teenage self-destruction’. They also published that a Year 12 student recognised ‘the programme only highlighted the bad students, which supports stereotypes of modern reckless teens’. This coverage of popular TV shows helps sell newspapers but the benefits work both ways because by being featured in the papers, the show gets more viewers. And with commercial channels, the more viewers it attracts, the more advertisers it attracts.

The web page for Educating Essex is very simplistic and in keeping with all channel 4 programme websites where, unlike the websites of The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent’ which are eye-catching and distinctive, the identity of the channel seems more important than the individual identities of the programmes it broadcasts. The black on white Channel 4 logo is prominent on the bland background as are the menus to go to other places on the Channel 4 website. The title of the show is the second largest font size on the page and is in a modern, no-nonsense style which supports the channel’s public service remit; suggesting it wants to represent itself as an informative, contemporary broadcasting company.  Strangely, the use of blackboard and chalk in the background suggests a more traditional view, maybe to appeal to viewers who are watching from a nostalgic viewpoint. The image, which holds the link to the sister 4oD site where viewers can watch back episodes, features 4 attractive school girls who are suggestively dressed in St Trinian’s style school uniforms. From this photo, we can see that the producers are going to take the stereotypical view of teenagers as rebellious, anti-establishment trouble-makers. This representation is confirmed when we see how the moving image trailer has been edited; there is a lot of air time focusing on teenagers with problems and little air time given to studious conformists. The adverts featured in the banners, providing more revenue for the channel, seem to be promoting products, such as mid-range cars and computing accessories, for a more professional, even masculine  audience which is surprising as the demographics for this channel suggest it is more popular with female viewers; it hosts/has hosted such programmes as Friends and Come Dine With Me. The adverts suggest the programme upholds the views and beliefs of the middle-class, professional section of society. Surprisingly, Channel 4 doesn’t offer opportunities for the viewer to become involved in debating the programme; it doesn’t even have links to a Facebook or Twitter account which can be an important part of promotional campaigns for many media products. It has links to further pages which give character profiles of the featured students, offering the audience an insight into their lives, which would appeal to a female audience

The promotional trailers show a variety of school settings from the classroom to the head’s office to the playing fields and all of the settings are populated with students and teachers interacting in emotive ways. The trailers exploit the footage that audiences will find the most surprising, the most shocking and/or the most funny. There are long shots of students moving around corridors that represent the modern school as a busy, functional environment, there are mid shots of play-fighting and gossiping that represent the actions and movement in school as boisterous and chaotic and there are close-ups of smiles, grimaces and frowns that represent the emotional reactions of the students and the teachers. In the trailers, student/student, student/teacher and teacher/teacher interactions hint at how the show will represent teenage issues, why students struggle to engage with school life and how teachers deal with the individuality of each student. With 65 installed cameras on site for 7 weeks, there must have been a lot of footage to choose from to make the promotional trailers but, as Channel 4 are mostly a commercially funded company, they need to maximise their viewing numbers and will therefore, naturally, choose the footage that appeals most to their target audience.

935 words



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