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15/05/2011

Reality TV Economics

Luke Johnson makes a good point about The Apprentice in his article for the Daily Mail:

"The Apprentice is essentially a pantomime, full of circus clowns: since 2005, Sugar has been playing a theatrical villain in a pretend office on a TV stage that is about as authentic as Aladdin’s lamp.

Genuine companies prosper thanks to teamwork, co-operation and consensus, not by bullying and back-stabbing. And innovative companies encourage experimentation — which inevitably includes mistakes — because that drives progress.

No real boss has said ‘You’re fired!’ for many years — they know that employment legislation these days is far more serious than that.

But television needs relentless drama to win big ratings — so it has a tendency to exaggerate and distort. The Apprentice is a prime case.

Not all reality TV about business is so awful. Undercover Boss is a much more enlightening show, while the classic of the genre was the Bafta-winning Troubleshooter series, a creation of the late British industrialist John Harvey-Jones.

He ran ICI, a vastly bigger concern than Sugar’s empire ever was. And Harvey-Jones was never much of a fan of Alan. ‘I always thought he was a bully,’ he once commented. ‘His values are, in my view, totally irrelevant to the needs of business.’

It is disappointing that the BBC can no longer make shows like Troubleshooter, in which Harvey-Jones visited real, struggling, small businesses and offered advice."

The BBC needs to be showcasing good examples of entrepreneurial leadership and real apprentices making their way in life - not setting up young, naive, brash individuals for a very public fall all in the name of tabloid coverage and TV ratings. This is not what our public service broadcaster was set-up for.

If we are to establish a more ethical, responsible and meritocratic form of capitalism in this country, then the BBC could help by moving on from this outdated 'reality' TV show and look at more inspiring - and ultimately more interesting - forms of business.

Channel 4's Jamie's Dream School, although deeply flawed in places, offered a more thought-provoking and watchable drama-documentary. Perhaps something similar - maybe by revamping the Dragon's Den format (with the Prince's Trust and investment bankers on the panel instead of more C-list celebrities) and following bid-winners as they then go through the trials, tribulations and achievements of setting up their own business - would be a better format, and more suited to our current socio-economic times?

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