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The New Spin on Reality TV

June 8, 2009

4th-Night-Logo3_BLUE_2_webSome will proudly confess to their Reality TV addiction – you know it’s bad, it destroys your brain but you just can’t help yourself, you promise you’ll stop soon. Some say on principle they refuse to watch, or in the case of our old flatmate – even channel surf during Big Brother in case a nanosecond landing on the host channel might clock a rating’s statistic.  There are others who try for some middle ground – the problem being … Reality TV is horrendously addictive.

Reality TV appeals to the inner voyeur as well as the desire to champion the underdog. There is something about them which reminds me of the insidious nature of soapies (aka “continuing dramas”) – you invite them in for half an hour and they never leave.   Reality TV in my opinion has superseded the soap opera as the new cultural heroin – if you use the word culture in a very “loose” sense of course.

Reality TV is cheap to make, so despite increasingly lower ratings across the world, it continues to contaminate our screens.  No guessing what I think of reality TV!  But something last week grabbed my attention.  A new spin on a tired genre – a middle ground for those who can’t get enough and those who can’t get far enough away!

Do you wish you spent more time reading books and less online? Do reality shows repulse you and yet, like a dung heap to flies, invariably draw you in? And if you do extricate yourself for a few moments from all devices luminous, does your shoulder devil soon whisper you back to a screen? If so, perhaps it’s time to stop resisting and instead put your reprehensible addictions to the service of your unrealized aspirations. ~Fourth Night website

Enter left of stage Fourth Fiction, a blog based version of reality TV to be launched on the 4th July. But is it possible for the concept to survive the jump into the blogosphere? Constatine Markides creator of the Fourth Fiction concept is gambling on it.

Fourth Fiction is a blog-based, literary reality show where contestants will be judged not on how they look but on what they write. I believe it has the potential to be the next big internet thing.

After all, I’m not certain how entertaining months of watching 12 writers hide in their rooms tapping away on their lap tops would be.  None of our families seem to be either intrigued or entertained by our writing habits – why think it would be palatable to the general populace who seem to be more into gormless kitchen try-hards being sworn at by a celebrity chef or here in Australia, the “best” and “fastest” renovation of a house, with women in impossibly tight shorts. My partner did point out, a Big Brother styled house full of writers could get interesting when they introduced beer and wine into the mix.

But we’re not talking TV.  We’re talking the internet. In electronic print, harnessing the power of social networking and the worsening economic climate, Fourth Fiction might be what Big Brother or Survivor were a decade ago.

To me Fourth Fiction is a fascinating hybrid of Survivor, First Tuesday Night Book Club, Black Books and the infamous Drawn Together … with The Goodies in a secret laboratory somewhere forcing all these TV shows into a huge wicker basket to complete the genre manipulation necessary for a media migration.

“Possibly spectacular, possibly awful, definitely intriguing” tweeted @DebraSnider after Markides unveiled his grand plan on his blog Fourth Night and Twitter on Friday.

The contestants will vie for the ultimate honour – to survive 12 literary challenges, 11 eliminations and emerge with a novel in hand.

“Expect manipulation, voyeurism, backstabbing, exhibitionism, sexual gratuitousness, pettiness and exploitation,” says Markides on his blog. “In short, the stuff that makes reality shows a beloved staple of 21st century culture.”

Fourth Fiction has all the elements of Reality TV:

  • A host: the charismatic Markides, who makes no secret the anticipated fun of dictating the direction of the competition.
  • Contestants – 12 anonymous, for all intents and purposes, participants hand picked by Markides for their idiosyncratic voices rather than writing prowess. Identities to be revealed at the end of the competition.
  • Judges – the online readership who gets to play judge and jury, elimination style.
  • Challenges – 12 literary guidelines for the “next instalment”, revealed every 4th, 14th, and 24th of the month, for four months, which writers will complete before the readers vote to eliminate one of them.

What is refreshing is Markides’ honesty on the project, his driving force to host such an ambitious project and the efforts of a writer to make it in a competitive market place. “In our viral era, making a media splash is more valuable than publication,” says Markides  A self confessed recovering luddite, he is throwing everything at this project in terms of what is available for free on the internet – utilising the power of cross platform presence and participation.

While Fourth Fiction will launch on July 4th and the first month will see the twelve participants venturing out into Twitter to raise their profiles, generate interest for the competition and if they’re savvy, garner a core following to take into the competition.  Official kick off in terms of challenges will be August 4th.

It will be interesting to see,  like other talent-based reality TV shows before it,  if participation in Fourth Fiction will be enough to launch a career from for anyone who plays or if only the winner will take it all.

Markides is currently in conversation with a number of independent publishers to fund a limited run of the winner’s novel, so there is the possibility the triumphant novelist may get the sort of “win” all writers hope for – publication.

And for any writers out there who love the idea and wish they had have been picked to participate (raising my own hand!) Markides is considering creating an additional page on the Fourth Night website to allow other writers to participate independently and post links to their writing.  Perhaps Markides may consider introducing an interloper via this means and go for double elimination rounds in true reality TV style? Really stir the pot.

What reality TV has lacked, Fourth Fiction, riding on the back of twitter can achieve – immediacy of interaction and audience participation beyond sending a thousand text message votes, all on the backdrop of a novel-in-the-making. Yes – something tangible! And the concept has the potential to ride high, in terms of traffic and following, during a worldwide economic down turn where millions of people are looking for a free means of escapism.  One could say Markides is dishing up just what the literate masses are baying for – but in true reality TV form, they just don’t know it yet.

To follow the antics of Fourth Fiction you can sign up at the Fourth Night website for email updates or add it to your RSS feeder.  And for the tweeters, you can follow Markides @FourthNight.

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Jodi Cleghorn has learnt to drive Twitter – finally and is loving connecting with writers and literary projects from around the world.  If  only she had worked out how to get rid of the marketers earlier on so she could enjoy her twitter feed. Follow Jodi’s Tweets @jodicleghorn or her new blog Writing in Black and White.
  1. June 8, 2009 6:16 am

    I missed the boat completely with the whole reality TV thing and can only confess to seeing a few episodes of Australian Idol a few years ago, and have never watched any of the BB or survivor type shows at all – though I have seen the shorts and understand many people live and breathe the personalities there (having worked in an all female office for a few years, one cannot escape the fantasies some hold over the half naked folk stuck in these situations.)
    Still -this sounds an interesting thing to watch from the sidelines and on twitter… I too need to turf all the folk touting their rubbish – but as yet have not put aside time to sift through who I really want to follow.

  2. June 8, 2009 9:22 am

    Thanks for the excellent write-up, Jodi. I’m interested in hearing more details about your idea of an interloper and the double-elimination rounds. Let’s definitely talk about it!

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