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The women in The Real Housewives of Orange County. Mitch Haaseth / Bravo / AP Photo
The women in The Real Housewives of Orange County. Mitch Haaseth / Bravo / AP Photo

Forget the experts: community support is new reality TV trend

Reality television has been getting a new, meaningful look around the world, with community-focused, 'helpful' programmes.

After the catfights and spray tans of Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of various American cities and one in Canada, the exploitative addiction-recovery plans of Dr Drew and unabashed consumerism of all those Kardashians, it seems that something good is finally coming of reality television.

A French research firm, The Wit, has found an emerging trend in a genre generally derided as being barren of meaning or good: community support. “Whereas in the past, people went to experts to help solve their problems, those in crisis now ask their neighbours for help,” said Virginia Mouseler, the managing director of the Paris-based company, during a recent media market event in Cannes. “The strongest trend in TV productions today is peer-to-peer recommendations.”

Mouseler’s comments are reflected in a broader trend entrenched by the increasing relevance of social networks, which value advice handed out by one’s peers above that of experts. We take a look at some of the new, more helpful reality offerings coming out of different corners of the world.

Neighbours

In this pilot from the Oprah Winfrey Network, a family in crisis asks for help. After a community meeting at which the family members reveal their problem, the neighbours individually decide whether they want to help them.

The twist is that the family has to hand over control of their life to one or two of their neighbours, who become their mentors, helping them to find solutions to the challenges they face.

Audience

A more extreme example of the new format, this time an audience of 50 strangers crams into the home of a person in crisis, who needs to take a life-changing decision but is struggling to confront the issue that they face. In one example, the participant was struggling to come to terms with the death of their father. The strangers, who live, eat and sleep in the house for seven days, are constantly on hand over the week to offer advice – as well as sometimes unwelcome truths about the problem.

Missing

Another show on the helping-hand theme, which was broadcast in Denmark in January, helps parents find a missing child or children who have been spirited abroad by an estranged partner. In season one of the show, 50 per cent of the abducted children were reunited with their families, Mouseler said.

Dear Neighbours, Help Our Daughter Find Love

Community service melds with a long-time favourite in the genre, dating shows. This programme sees an entire local community working together to find a husband for a local family’s daughter. She is blissfully unaware of what they are up to until she arrives on a visit and is asked to choose a partner from the three male candidates they have selected.

Match Makers

Dating shows are as popular as ever, with a slew of new programmes being broadcast from Scandinavia to Australia. All, of course, have the goal of helping singletons find their match, seducing a maximum number of viewers in the process. “Dating is once again a hot area,” says Rob Clark, the director of global entertainment development at FremantleMedia. The London-based company is one of the world’s top production houses for entertainment formats.

• Farmer Wants a Wife Needs no explanation. Ranked as the No 1 show in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

• Please Marry My Boy Three mums help their sons to meet the girl of their dreams via a series of challenges.

• Fools for Love This show, which premiered in Denmark in March, challenges single participants who later see a wall slide away to reveal – surprise! – an old flame.

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