Tallafornia: Porn without the sex?

TV3’s Tallafornia has caught the attention of both Time Magazine and MTV after just one episode. Deirdre Reynolds looks at how reality TV is plumbing new depths

TOE-SUCKING, sunbeds and six packs – welcome to Tallafornia. Ireland’s answer to Jersey Shore returns to TV3 tonight — and after a preview episode last month, the reality TV show has already divided audiences at home and abroad.

The fly-on-the-wall series follows the lives of seven twenty-something West Dubliners cooped up together for a month.

And though their Tallaght house comes fully equipped with a private ‘Score Room’, it’s yet to see any action — with residents David, Jay, Phil, Cormac, Nikita, Kelly and Natalie stripping off, hooking up and getting plastered in full view of the cameras instead.

Like its British counterpart The Only Way is Essex (TOWIE), the TV3 show has been branded trashy, embarrassing and cheap.

But like TOWIE, it’s also proved an overnight hit – pulling in more than 500,000 viewers for its pilot.

So do half a million Irish people really have nothing better to do on Friday night than watch a bunch of perma-tanned Tallafornians shop for tins of tuna and pump iron? “The Hills, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore, Made in Chelsea and Fade Street — just when you thought it was safe to turn on your telly, TV3 give us Tallafornia,” says Sheena McGinley, Editor of Entertainment.ie.

“Constructed reality TV is television at its most basic. Tallafornia is a bit like porn without the sex — complete with hot tub action, constant bikini-wearing, stilted conversation and orchestrated scenarios.

“To be honest, I only half-watched the first episode, as enough of my precious time is already spent reviewing soaps. But with muscles and bawdiness over brains and scintillating dialogue, it’s bound to do well with a certain demographic.”

Others took to the net to cast their vote.

“This is a new low in broadcasting”, tapped out one viewer. “Pure garbage ... Ashamed to be from Dublin right now,” continued the diatribes.

For the show’s producer Fintan Maguire, however, there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

“I knew the show would get a mixed reaction,” he says. “But I wasn’t expecting people to love or hate it so absolutely.”

“People all over the world are talking about Tallafornia — it trended at number 3 worldwide and ended up on Time Magazine and MTV’s websites. And maybe it’s rose-tinted glasses, but for me, the positive feedback outweighs the negative.”

“As a commercial broadcaster, our job is to appeal to the broadest possible audience,” he adds. “However, there are some people who simply won’t watch Tallafornia.

“For instance, my parents are in their sixties and have absolutely no interest in watching it. Just this morning, my mother sent me a text saying, ‘Good luck with Tallagate!’ But our target audience is 18-35, so if my parents aren’t tuning in, then I know I’m doing my job properly. Put it like this, I haven’t taken any of the criticism too personally.”

Love it or loathe it, now it looks like Tallavision’s newest stars could go global — with bookmakers Paddy Power offering 1/3 odds that Tallafornia will be snapped up by MTV, the home of Jersey Shore and Geordie Shore.

If so, it’s the stars of the show who could have the last laugh — former TOWIE star Amy Childs has been tipped to make £10 million in 2012, thanks to her bra and clothing ranges, fitness DVD and Essex beauty salon.

“I wouldn’t say no to anything depending on the rates,” says Tallafornia star Kelly Donegan, 22, an Assets model who has already snapped up work with Sky Sports. “Definitely I’d do the glamour modelling kind of thing. I’d love to do Playboy, if the money was right – why not?”

Chalk versus cheese, Tallafornia is set to take on The Late Late Show in the battle for Friday night viewers.

Even over at Montrose, reality TV seems unstoppable — with Fade Street, Don’t Tell the Bride, ICA Bootcamp and MasterChef Ireland among recent offerings.

“Unfortunately, ‘reality TV’ has become a byword for a certain type of television,” says Bill Malone, Entertainment Commissioning Editor for RTÉ One. “People often see it as trashy TV — but I would argue that reality TV has been around since cameras became portable. Certainly, RTÉ has always been interested in telling real people’s stories.

“You could absolutely consider Operation Transformation or The All Ireland Talent Show as reality TV, but just not in the same sense as Big Brother or Tallafornia.”

“One of the reasons why there’s so much reality TV around is that it can be done cheaply and easily,” adds Malone, who has just scored a hit with new talent show The Voice of Ireland. “Cheap, badly-made reality TV shows are ten a penny.”

The demise of Big Brother in 2010 was seen as the beginning of the end of reality TV.

Sure enough, not even Georgia Salpa’s barely-there bikinis could rescue Celebrity Big Brother — which has seen its viewership slide from 5.1 million to 3.5 million since debuting on Channel 5 last year after being dumped by Channel 4.

Likewise, The X Factor Final drew its lowest concluding audience since 2007 of 15.3 million when Little Mix became the first group to win the competition in December.

“Can you become saturated on a particular type of reality TV?” repeats Bill Malone. “Most certainly you can. A particular niche of reality TV goes in fads — this year it’s Jersey Shore, next year it’s something else.

“With reality TV, there’s a bit of ‘Oh my God — are they really doing that?’ You get this cocktail of people from the beautiful to the bitchy that people can sit back on the couch and be mildly amused by. “We’re a naturally curious people and reality TV appeals to the ‘nosy neighbour’ in all of us,” he adds.

“Tallafornia isn’t my cup of tea — but I find obu-docs [observational documentaries] fascinating.”

With shows like I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! still capable of trouncing more high-brow fare like David Attenbourgh’s Frozen Planet and Downton Abbey in the ratings, however, reality TV is going nowhere according to the experts.

“Reality TV is here to stay,” reckons Tallafornia co-creator Fintan Maguire. “Shows like TOWIE have blurred the lines between drama, soap and reality – and it’s exciting to watch where it goes from here.”

“Tallafornia could be seen as another nail in the coffin of culture,” reckons Sheena McGinley of Entertainment.ie. “But you don’t have to watch – there are plenty of great alternatives like Downton Abbey, Mildred Pierce and The Killing.

“I will say one thing in Tallafornia’s favour, though — for a change, there are more scantily-clad men than women!”

On which note, can we expect more toe-sucking, bed-hopping and girl-on-girl action from TV3’s Tallafornians tonight? “It’s a nine-week run, so anything could happen,” laughs Fintan Maguire.

Consider yourself warned.

* Tallafornia starts tonight on TV3 at 10pm

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