It’s the interview episode of The Apprentice tonight and we’ve been promised a showdown between Claude and one of the candidates but to be honest I’m more looking forward to the new series of Geordie Shore, the first episode of which is sitting on the Sky Plus box. How can this possibly have happened?
I am not familiar with the reality TV genre – Towie, Made in Chelsea and The Valleys have all passed me by, and I am aware of the miserable reviews that Geordie Shore has received. Oh, and the fact that the apparently-brightest member of the Geordie mansion, Vicky, was arrested for assault last week together with Holly. This is fortunate for Holly, who has relied in previous seasons on Vicky to explain such complicated matters as, ‘What is Europe?’
The constant celebration of hedonism on the daftly-named Shore leaves me cold. But so does this series of The Apprentice. Indeed, since the shift in prize from actual apprentice-style role to business partner, the format has seemed awkward. The business plan, proposed before starting the process, guides the process like Adam Smith’s invisible hand. That simile is as close as The Apprentice gets to economics. Get brought into the boardroom and your plan is as likely to get skewered as your performance on the current task. Indeed, what is the point of the task? It used to be something that a reasonably intelligent viewer could watch and perhaps give some thought to what they would do in similar situations. Now, there’s as much coverage of Nick and Karren shaking their heads sadly as of the action itself, and the little we see is meant to set up the boardroom showdown. Lord Sugar’s decisions have also seemed a little random. Hired the motivational speaker regarded as the best part of the away day? Fired! Acted in a way that Nick Hewer described as a ‘disgraceful display’? Not fired!
So the formula has become increasingly inflexible: put a bunch of people with an over-inflated view of their abilities and large egos into an artificial process, give them something to do and watch it kick off. That’s exactly what happens in Geordie Shore except that instead of giving them something to do, the producers give them something to drink. Watching the male contestants in the Apprentice preen and pout, you realise that the only things that separate them from Gaz, Scott and co. are their horizons. Gaz saying that he is going to ‘smash’ a go-kart race is no more outrageous than Neil Clough referring to himself in the third person and saying much the same thing about selling fancy ceramics.
But perhaps the single biggest difference between the two shows (if you take the casual sexism, swearing and desperately poor innuendo out of Newcastle) is the honesty of the participants. Hands up who would trust Luisa not to stab them in the back? And Charlotte? Charlotte probably would literally stab you, such is her bad reaction to booze, but Luisa would do it metaphorically – and when sober. And that honesty spills into the show itself. Geordie Shore doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. Its participants seem innocently (if they can be said to be innocent about anything) unaware that there are ever consequences to their actions. They are not people to aspire to be. But neither are the so-called business brains-to-be over on BBC ONE – and none of Alan’s army of wannabes is aware of the fact. The most visible Apprentice participant, Katie Hopkins, is not known for her business acumen.
As a result, you can argue that the viewer is actually less manipulated on MTV – you know what you are going to get (chlamydia, probably, and a raging hangover) – but as a result your reaction is less controlled. You can think about education, about horizons, about values. You can think about manipulation, dishonesty and Machiavelli. You can think about how TV portrays the naïve. And then you can confront your own snobbery.
Perhaps the biggest critique of the new Apprentice came from the BBC TWO scheduler. This person is definitely aware of The Apprentice, as they run Dara O Briain’s spin off, You’re Fired, immediately after it. But a few weeks ago they saw fit to run a serious analysis of the financial industry against it. Surely the BBC wouldn’t pitch a proper business show against another proper business show? And of course, they didn’t. The Apprentice is no longer a proper business show. It’s Geordie Shore without the hedonism but it won’t admit it.
Lord Sugar, Nick, Karren, with regret, you’re fired. HOWAY!
I think The Apprentice has been a business programme, and in fairness it has sparked debates about business practice (though usually when Lord Sugar says something outrageous about childcare or the inability of scientists to be businesspeople). It’s also true that the debates started by Geordie Shore have tended to be more limited in their scope, such as whether the housemates are bad for the image of Newcastle. (Though note that there have been as many articles about whether The Apprentice, or its contestants, are equally bad for the idea of entrepreneurialism.)
When we come to motives it’s a different matter. There’s little on the record about what most Apprentice candidates end up doing, though clearly most of them think they are going to win it. As for Geordie Shore housemates, I like your suggestion of ‘entertainment’ rather than ‘fame’ as their major motivation. Lots of people do want that lifestyle without having to pay for it and these guys may not see themselves as being compromised.
Was the apprentice ever a business programme? And couldn’t you argue that they’ve just figured out that people don’t need a prize to compromise themselves for the sake of entertainment, other than more opportunities to compromise themselves for the sake of entertainment?