Monday, 29 December 2008

More travel "reality" on primetime television

Throughout the seven years since the premiere of its first season on 5 September 2001, The Amazing Race has been the only travel program on primetime national broadcast television in the USA. Perhaps that’s not surprisng: after 11 September 2001, the second episode of “The Amazing Race” was postponed for a week while the network debated whether to cancel the series. CBS decided to go on with the show, but drastically cut back on its marketing and promotion, and had a hard time getting advertisers to sponsor it.

As it turned out, there was more interest in international travel by people in the USA after 11 September 2001 than there had been before (albeit coupled with more and different fears), and “The Aamzing Race” eventually found a growing audience of armchair as well as real-world travellers.

But perhaps it’s also no surprise that the first new primetime travel TV show since then, while also a “reality” show, is about the fears and the changes, rather than the joy, of travel after 11 September 2001: Homeland Security USA premieres Tuesday night, 6 January 2009 (8-9 p.m. ET/PT. 7-8 p/m. CT/MT) on ABC.

The concept for the new show in the USA was franchised from the producers of the hit Australian “reality” television show, Border Security . Watching broadcasts produced in other countries is a great way to learn about other countries, and the original Australian version of “Border Security” was one of the programs (along with the Al-Jazeera English ) that made the strongest impression on us form our trip around the world. We saw the Australian show first on cable TV in a hotel in Hong Kong, and later throughout our six weeks in Australia. It features immigration inspectors’ back-room interviews with visitors, in which they try to get them to admit that they are really just tourists, but intend to seek work in Australia, as well as scens of of cargo and luggage being poked, squeezed, x-rayed, sniffed by dogs, and in some cases smashed open to look for drugs and other contraband during customs inspections. And then there are the Australians returning from Asia with forbidden foods and flowers.

The US version will be broader in scope, and less specifically focsued on travel, since it will cover the whole range of DHS activites. (Although it probbly won’t show the warrantless wiretapping and Internet snooping, or the people nominating names for the watchlists or reviewing the “derogatory” information to decide who to allow to travel, and who not to.) Since the show depends on the cooperation of the DHS to allow them to film, it also can’t be expected to portray the DHS unfavorably — even it wanted to do so, we presume that the television producers gave the DHS the right to review and approve the content before it is broadcast. On the other hand, an argument could be made that since the DHS allowed this TV show to be filmed, they have opened their operations as a public forum, and are required to allow content-neutral access to the same operational areas for documentary filmmakers.

[Addendum: The Department of Homeland Security in Action. Will this be the DHS reality they show on TV?]

Link | Posted by Edward on Monday, 29 December 2008, 10:08 (10:08 AM)

There's also the popular show on the National Geographic Channel, "Locked Up Abroad," about real people who visit a foreign country and end up incarcerated:

Posted by: Marilyn Terrell, 29 December 2008, 13:21 ( 1:21 PM)

"Locked Up Abroad" uses contemporary interviews with the protagonists, but most of the events they describe happened years ago, and most of what is shown are reenactments by actors. That's different from the version of reality shown on "The Amazing Race". I was talking specifically about *broadcast* TV, but there are obviously many more travel programs on cable TV channels such as the Travel Channel, National Geographic Channel, etc.

Posted by: Edward, 29 December 2008, 15:33 ( 3:33 PM)
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