The Making of 'The Colony': A Case Study of 'Living History' and Documentary Within Contemporary Television Practice
MetadataShow full item record
Historical reality TV, a subgenre of contemporary ‘reality’ programming, belongs to the tradition and practice of documentary – this is the assertion of historical reality TV makers, industry and government financiers, public and education broadcasters. This belief in historical reality TV’s documentary status has also has led to a decided dissociation with any reference to ‘reality TV’, thus the adoption of more nebulous terms like ‘living history’ or ‘hands on history’. The rationale behind claims to ‘documentary’ practice is founded in the belief that by providing historical information in an entertaining way, the form educates and illuminates in the Griersonian tradition. To investigate this claim, this dissertation employs both a visual and written thesis. The film, The Making of ‘The Colony’, provides an audiovisual analysis of the behind-the-scenes activities of one production company as it made a ‘living history’ television series, The Colony (2005). Filmed over a period of six months, the 48- minute documentary considers the process and principles behind The Colony, offering an observed and interview based account of ‘living history’ television in production. The written component of the thesis identifies the civic nature of the documentary tradition, the purpose that motivated its practitioners and the integrity which characterised the form. How this tradition has evolved within the institution of television will be examined, as well as the forces influencing contemporary factual programming. Drawing on some theoretical discussions surrounding documentary film, such as notions of truth, integrity and intent, the written thesis investigates the impact that television has had upon the documentary community of practitioners and on the nature of the form itself. Specifically, the procedural realities underpinning historical reality TV production will be examined and in particular, the production of The Colony. Taken together, the two components (visual and written) of the case study offer an examination into how contemporary television transforms conventional ideas of ‘documentary’. My findings suggest that as documentary aligns with more ambiguous and ambivalent forms of ‘factual’ television programming, the purpose and nature of this once serious discourse becomes less about illuminating the world in which we live, and more about diverting from and suppressing that which is real. The most critical finding reveals that there is an urgent need to better define the documentary form within the contemporary context of reality programming. In reflecting upon the process of production in both the behind-the-scenes documentary and the ‘living history’ program, this thesis proffers some recommendations that may assist good documentary practice. These relate back to the traditional integrity of the documentary form and the public service ethics that have informed its development. My recommendations support the call for a clearer industry distinction by which to distinguish civic and commercial practice in documentary production. Most notably, what needs consideration in commissioning public work from public funds is the documentarist’s intention, their willingness to be transparent about the production process, and the ultimate ‘use value’ of the documentary outcome for the audience as a citizen, not as a consumer.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Humanities
Item Access Status
Restricted (Permanent or embargo)
The request for permanent embargo on access to this thesis has been approved, with effect from 25 January 2010.
Historical reality TV
Reality TV programming