OldVenue, TV

Watching You Watching TV

Sitting down in front of the TV after a hard day of work, cocooned in blankets and with tea and biscuits in hand, the last thing you would think would be appealing to watch, is someone doing just the same. Yet this is what Channel 4’s hugely successful “fly-on-the-wall” documentary Gogglebox is all about. Each week the programme showcases a number of recurring families, filmed in their own living rooms, reacting to the week’s most intriguing TV shows and news items. It seems bizarre that this would be entertaining.

However, the nation seems to disagree. In fact, since it first aired, it has become one of the most popular programmes on British television reaching a peak viewing figure of 3.2 million and laying claim to a BAFTA award in 2014, and a National Television Award in 2015. So what makes it so popular?

When Gogglebox first appeared on our televisions in March 2013, audiences were instantly charmed by its simplicity and relevance. As viewers, we are so used to watching dramatic acting, complicated plotlines and immaculately flawless celebrities, that it was refreshing to witness real people, living authentic, unscripted lives. The ordinariness of the families and their all too familiar evening routine of watching the TV, offers a refreshing relevance to the viewers. We too slob on the sofa, laugh at bad auditions on X-Factor, and swoon over Paul Hollywood. Celebrity culture is central to our modern society, and with the constant use of social media and smartphones, we are plastered with images of models and actors around the clock. Seeing normal people in normal settings brings to the show a certain warmth, and connectivity to its viewer. Certainly, it is true that observational documentaries with the general public have gained an increasing popularity in recent years, with successes such as First Dates and 24 Hours in A&E.

If anything, Gogglebox’s life and soul is due to the people it features. Each family is bursting with personality. The diversity of race, gender, sexuality and age works to symbolise a growing, modern Britain. From archetypal posh couple Dom and Steph, chatty Kate the vicar, outrageous friends Chris and Stephen, and takeaway adoring, eccentric friends Sandy and Sandra, the show’s cast is anything but monotonous. They are the show’s life-line and without them, I’m sure many viewers would switch off.

Yet, as it reaches its sixth series, some critics have commented that the show has become formulaic and stale. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that it is fake and scripted, which has been fiercely denied. One noticeable change in the show is an increasing focus towards the TV programmes it presents, rather than the reactions and behaviour of the families, perhaps as a way  of promoting particular TV shows.

Let’s not forget that its inspiration, multi award winning The Royale Family, focused entirely around the cast as they watched non-existent TV programmes and humorously reacted.

Although it has changed from where it began, its charm is still intact, thanks to its charismatic cast. A focus on the families, their everyday lives and honest, truthful reactions to British TV will ensure Gogglebox’s lengthy success. So keep watching- it might be you on there one day.


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August 2021
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