CANNES, Oct 18 — After a decade of being driven apart by devices — smartphones, tablets and game consoles — television wants to bring families back together again... for better or for worse.
Trendspotters at the world’s biggest entertainment market in France say a wave of sometimes hair-raising shows about resolving family and personal disputes are about to hit our screens.
With titles like The Lie Detective, I’ve Got Something to Tell You and Get the F*** Out of My House, it promises to be a bumpy ride.
But according to analysts most of new formats are about trying to solve problems rather than stoke them and take the heat out of feuding families or other dysfunctional relationships.
Virginia Mouseler, of The Wit, the leading entertainment trends agency, told the MIPCOM gathering in Cannes yesterday that “reconciliation is in the air”.
British show Families Gone Wild throws families on the point of falling apart into the jungle for five days to fend for themselves in a kind of “shock therapy in the wilderness”, she said.
While the forthcoming US series The Letter has people writing to their best friends “telling them what they don’t like about them and how they must change, a kind of ‘I love you but you must improve.’“
The truth-telling gets even more uncomfortable in UK show The Lie Detective where an expert equipped with a polygraph machine gets to the bottom of whether supposed “lies” haunting couples are real or not.
But the most radically new approach is two German and Dutch shows, Look Me In the Eyes and Face to Face, where estranged lovers, friends and family members must silently stare each other in the eye for up to five minutes.
Experts now believe silence is “better at solving conflict than saying too much”, Mouseler said, particularly when the hurt is so bad people have not spoken in years.
The Dutch makers of Face to Face believe that controlled silent confrontations can help thaw disputes frozen in time, or give both parties the chance to move on.
The walls that go up between people are real as well as metaphorical in the Israeli show Boxed, which seems to be working on a geopolitical as well as personal level.
In the programme, a mediator helps people solve intractable disputes by locking them in a box divided by a white partition.
Having tried to persuade both parties towards a resolution, the wall dividing the box is drawn away to see which if any of the warring parties is willing to try his solution.
Whether couples have it in them to last the course is explored in another new Israeli show Fast Forward, whose hook of making them up to look 20 or 40 years older is used to explore whether they can stick out the relationship for the long haul.
The theme is echoed in the Dutch chat show The Story of My Life, where a similar device is used to get celebrity couples to open up about their hopes and fears for the future.
Lying and cheating men featured heavily in many of the news series. And nowhere does the male of the species wriggle more on the hook than in a Chinese-Singaporean show called Man Birth.
In it men are confronted with the reality of the pain and discomfort women of go through during pregnancy by having to wear computer controlled plastic suits which replicate the condition.
One horror-struck father-to-be is seen waddling down a street saying, “Something is leaking in my pants.” Days later as the pain gets too much, he weeps to his pregnant wife, “I am a man, of course I’m weak!”
It could have been worse. He could have been in the Israeli reality show Pregnant and Platonic, where single people who want babies but “don’t want to fall in love” are brought together to procreate.
Candidates are matched after a three-day parenting boot camp, and as the trailer chillingly relates, “Each episode climaxes with a baby being born.” — AFP