Frisky seniors, mentally disabled star in edgy TV shows

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Frisky seniors, the mentally disabled and dangerously obese people are set to be next season's shock television stars, in a rash of edgy reality shows touted at an industry fair this week.

Many new shows air secretly-filmed pranks and antics, marking what producers say is a revival of the candid camera on primetime television -- but this time with a twist seeking to challenge society's prejudices and fears.

In "Benidorm Bastards", elderly characters played by actors shock unsuspecting youngsters by pretending to have sex -- not the kind of behaviour the set-up witnesses expect from senior citizens.

Two other new programmes presented this week at the MIPCOM audiovisual entertainment market play on the limits of prejudice and patience towards mentally disabled people through candid camera stunts.

In "UPSIDE Down", which premiered in the Netherlands at the beginning of September, youths with mental disabilities play harmless practical jokes on celebrities and people in the street.

"There is a real return to hidden cameras as the result is simple, funny and makes people laugh," Virginia Mouseler, head of prominent TV tracking and research agency The Wit, told AFP.

"The Unusuals", which premieres this season in Sweden, follows a group of people with mental disabilities who stage a musical at a major theatre, offering an insight into the difficulties they face.

Asked whether questions of good taste were a concern for the makers of such shows, Mouseler defended them as a celebration of people's goodwill.

"The programmes with hidden cameras are ones that seek to bring people together and play for laughs, not for moral or educational aims," she told AFP.

"'Upside Down' is a programme that plays above all on people's generosity" towards those with disabilities, she added.

In "Big Meets Bigger", dangerously overweight Britons try to get motivated to lose weight by travelling to other countries and experiencing the lives and health problems of people whose weight has become life-threatening.

"The programmes with obese people are indeed sometimes hard to watch for some," said Mouseler. "By shocking people they can motivate people not to go that way themselves."

Several of the most original, and potentially controversial, new shows scheduled to hit viewer's screens this season come from the Netherlands, home of ground-breaking reality shows such as "Big Brother".

"The Netherlands is definitely back at the top of the game as regards creativity," said Mouseler, presenting her pick of the new programmes to top television, internet and digital executives in the French resort of Cannes.

The recession has meanwhile sparked a number of new programmes themed around job seeking.

In "The Boss Is Coming To Dinner" by international group Zodiak Rights, job-hunters try to impress employers by hosting them at home. British show "The Fairy Jobmother" focuses on helping long-term unemployed people back to work.

International production company Shine International meanwhile offers an unusual way of motivating small offices and companies hit by the economic downturn, with "The Naked Office", which aired in Britain in May.

In the show, a behavioural specialist makes staff carry out team-building tasks, working up to "Naked Friday", when each member of staff comes to work wearing nothing but a smile.

© 2010 AFP

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