Media: Behind the Hype - Back to Reality can't capture viewer imagination

Five's stab at reality TV lifted its youth appeal but it failed to excite, Claire Billings says.

Billed as the reality show to end all reality shows, expectations ran high for five's attempt to cash in on the current obsession with celebrity-fuelled TV with Back to Reality.

The show, developed by Princess Productions, brought together a selection of stars from previous reality programmes, such as Channel 4's Big Brother, The Games and The Salon and ITV's Pop Idol and I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here.

The line-up included Craig Phillips, the first winner of Big Brother, the celebrity gossip rag favourite Jade Goody from Big Brother 3, Ricardo Ribeiro from The Salon and James Hewitt, the eventual winner, from The Games.

Back to Reality cost five £4.7 million to produce, but it was panned by critics and only drew a fraction of the audiences enjoyed by shows such as I'm A Celebrity.

The lack of excitement surrounding the show could be down to its format.

Critics have branded it lazy, lambasting a lack of effort in casting and production.

Casting is crucial to a reality show, as I'm A Celebrity illustrated when the public empathised with cast members. Successful casting creates a talking point among viewers when programming is not on air, which Back to Reality failed to do.

"The reason reality TV has worked in the past is for its conversational value," Naked's joint head of strategy Jon Forsyth says.

Forsyth believes that because viewers had already seen the characters in this type of environment there was no surprise in watching them again.

He also thinks that the show may not have done the revamped five brand any favours. "It's a bit of a disappointment in terms of brand positioning. I was surprised at five as the channel had gone up in my estimation recently with its selection of film and programming."

While Back to Reality hasn't been a huge success, viewing figures released before the final was screened showed that it had helped five increase its 16- to 34-year-old audience. The 8pm show averaged 6.6 per cent of 16 to 34 viewers against 4.8 per cent for the same slot in 2003.

The 11pm show averaged 11.1 per cent of 16 to 34 viewers, up from 8.8 per cent a year ago.

Even so, these figures pale against those enjoyed by I'm A Celebrity, which peaked at more than 12 million in the last series. And while the last Big Brother was less popular than previous series, it still managed to pull in a peak audience of more than ten million. In comparison, the final of Back to Reality pulled in an average of 1.62 million viewers and a 7.85 per cent share of the audience.

The show's scheduling was also blamed for the low figures as it was up against EastEnders and The Bill at 8pm, but this could have been taken into account when it was being planned.

What it has proved is that putting a bunch of celebrities in a house does not automatically make a successful reality TV show.

Back to Reality had a high-profile build-up, but lack of originality seems to have ensured it didn't live up to expectations.

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