Halfway Thoughts | Guilty pleasures

We all have them. For some it’s weird food combinations like remoulade and pålægschokolade (that should keep you non-Danish food eaters wondering) or ice cream with popcorn. For others it’s a certain song or artist. For me it’s TV. Not just any kind of TV, but the worst kinds of reality shows out there. I simply crave them!


I’m sure many people can relate to not wanting to admit they actually saw the season finale of ‘The Bachelorette’ or that they’re on first name terms with all the real housewives of Orange County. But to me it’s extra embarrassing because I’m a serious journalist. At least that’s how people see me. I’ve done hard news on national TV and radio. I moved to Cairo just two months after Mubarak was ousted. I’ve analysed the situation in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Palestine and so on. And I love doing that. But once I come home and put up my feet, all I really want to do is catch up on who slept with who on ‘Gossip Girl’ or what new and crazy ideas they come up with on ‘Amazing Wedding Cakes’.


Which is why I was lucky, in more than one sense, when I decided to quit news reporting and get into TV production. Naturally there’s a world of difference between reporting on the latest developments in Syria and any cooking show out there. But at the end of the day, both are about telling a story and keeping your viewers’ attention for as long as possible. In many ways it’s a lot more challenging trying to keep people watching after 20 minutes. You have to think much more about the story you’re telling and how to sustain the suspense until the right moment. Coming from a 1:30 world, naturally I have a lot to learn about the longer formats. And what better way to do that then watching how others do it?


So now, instead of having to steal secret moments with my computer catching up on the latest ‘Paradise Hotel’, I can actually watch everything and pass it off as research. I’m in heaven! All those Danish docusoaps, which I’d rather die than be caught watching, are suddenly completely legit. Now I watch to see how they jump from one character to the next or how they manage to twist and turn the plots in ways I’d never have thought of.


But in the middle of young mothers barely looking after their kids, and couples so deep in debt it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever be able to own anything ever again, something dawned on me. Danish reality TV always focuses on the people we look down upon. The people we like to laugh at. The ones who make us think no matter how bad our own lives seem, at least someone else is worse off.


I know there are plenty of American and British TV shows that do exactly the same. I too have watched my share of Honey Boo-Boo. But at least in those countries, there are also the other programmes: the ones that focus on people who have worked hard and achieved something, and the ones that make us feel like maybe if we try just a little bit harder, we too can make our dreams come true.


But why is it that way? My best guess is that it is because Danes don’t want to share their success. In fact, apart from a certain segment of wannabe reality stars, Danes don’t want to share anything about themselves. It’s not just about the infamous Jantelov. The reason we don’t have TV shows about successful people is the same reason that people don’t start talking to the person next to them on the bus or know the name of the baker even though they’ve been buying bread every Sunday morning for ten years. We stick to ourselves and we expect others to do the same.


Personally, I find that very sad. Not just because I now struggle to find people willing to go on TV. But because I miss being inspired by someone I can relate to. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe Danes actually prefer only being faced with people worse off. But that’s better left for a completely different column.