The Discarded – ‘Front-line heroes’

26 June 2010

Written by: Matt de Neef

For those that were fortunate enough to miss my torrent of Twitter and Facebook spam two weeks ago, I had an article published on News Limited’s opinion website, The Punch. The silly little piece about Channel Seven’s new US-import Hung attracted criticism from a large percentage of the 84 readers that commented, leaving me feeling a little despondent.

As well as attracting a whole slew of comments, the Hung piece also attracted the attention of one reporter at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was keen to find out more about my distate for the show and after interviewing me over the phone, my comments made it to her story the next day.

Keen to get another article in The Punch as soon as possible, I penned another piece, this one critical of the Nine Network’s choice of programming. Nine’s RBT, a show about random breath testing (hence the ultra-stylish acronym), premieres tomorrow night and I thought it a worthy target of some sarcasm-laden criticism.

The folks at The Punch said the piece was good and that they would get back to me on Thursday about publishing it on Friday. I didn’t hear back from them and I’m not quite sure why; it’s not like there was a major political story unfolding that day or anything.

So, without further ado, here’s episode two of ‘The Discarded’, ‘Front-line heroes…’

With around a third of Australian road fatalities being directed related to drink-driving and with millions of drivers being breath tested every year, you’d think that people would start to realise that drink driving might be a bad idea. Apparently not, given that the percentage of alcohol-related road fatalities has remained constant over the last two decades.

This Sunday, with the premiere of their snappily-titled reality show RBT, the Nine Network will do their bit in the fight against drink-driving. Or, to put it another way, Nine will now start capitalising on people’s inability to separate the acts of alcohol consumption and motor vehicle control.

For those that are a little confused by Nine’s trendy acronym use, RBT stands for Random Breath Testing; a decidedly less marketable title you might agree. According to a press release from Nine, the “compelling new series goes behind the lines of the NSW Police force on breath testing operations”.

While it’s true that RBT is a “new” series for Nine, the idea of going behind the scenes of a public department or service is about as original as the songs being played by the cover band at your local watering hole. The “front-line heroes” formula has produced a number of forgettable shows for the commercial networks in the last few years; Ten’s Bondi Rescue, Nine’s Customs and Seven’s essentially-xenophobic Border Security, just to name a few.

The “front-line heroes” show is a close cousin of the “feel-good” reality show, examples of which include Seven’s RSPCA Animal Rescue, the soppy Find My Family and Nine’s equally emotional Random Acts of Kindness. Both genres are in the business of thriving on their emotional impact; the “front-line heroes” show drawing strength from a feeling of pride in the admirable work done by our community services, the “feel-good” show drawing us in with the promise of tears and emotional fulfilment.

As well as drawing respectable audiences such shows have the added bonus of being very cheap for their respective networks to produce. After all, why bother paying someone to write and create an original show when there’s money to be made by sending a crew to film the everyday workings of an existing department or service?

While I’m not nearly important enough to get my hands on an advanced copy of RBT, I have been privy to the fleeting promos for the show’s upcoming premiere. And, while this isn’t a review of the show, I’m willing to hazard a couple of educated guesses at what one might see, should they decide to tune in to RBT in its run on Nine;

What you will see

–          A disproportionately high number of drivers being caught under the influence of drugs and alcohol

–          Nine hamming up the “front-line heroes” angle

–          At least one concerned-looking police officer proselytising about how “kids these days think they’re invincible”

–          Commercial breaks featuring the latest alcohol-awareness ads

What you won’t see

–          The overwhelming majority of Australian breath tests that show drivers to be free of alcohol or drugs.

–          Commercial breaks full of Carlton Draught and Victoria Bitter ads

–          A nuanced analysis of what makes people decide to drink-drive

So as we head into the weekend and many of you head to after-work drinks I’d like to propose a toast to the 33 per cent of Australians who have admitted to drink driving. Without you lovely folk providing work for breath testing officers we wouldn’t have the likes of RBT on Australian TV.

Cheers.

Matt de Neef is a former upstart co-editor, and blogs at A Cursory Glance. where this piece was first posted.