When reality television and zombies combine, the British television show ‘Deadset’ comes into play. The show is essentially a spoof on reality TV set both on the inside and outside world of the UK version of ‘Big Brother’. A zombie apocalypse rocks Britain and the last people standing happen to be the participants of Big Brother.
The show was premiered on October 27, 2008 on E4 and was shown consecutively for the five days leading up to Halloween. The ‘scary hype’ that surrounds Halloween, perhaps suggests the reason for this “flesh-eating genre for the smallscreen” (Clarke, 2008, pg. 30) raking in E4’s biggest audience since 2002 with 1.4 million viewers for the 10pm premiere. According to E4, the show had an average audience share of 5.8% compared with an average of 1.8% at the time slot. And perhaps the fact that this show was approached like a “feature film” according to Charlie Booker and featured the real host of the U.K. version of Big Brother, Davina McCall (which is interesting considering the real meanings behind the show), is the reason it was a success.
Deadset encompasses everything that falls under the horror genre with the use of “rapid edits and a range of shots that cut back and forth between the ‘threat at a distance’ and the abstracted close-up of the bloody attacks” (Venzo, 2009, pg. 95) providing the audience with a “gore-fest” (Venzo, 2009, pg. 95). But the show delves further than a typical horror drama, where it begins to explore the idea of audience consumption (represented by the zombie apocalypse).
Charlie Booker has called the audience to question the concept of reality TV and to consider the “capacity of humankind to consume itself, via the media’s obsession with representing back to us the (supposedly) everyday experiences of the Western middle classes” (Venzo, 2009, pg. 93). This is shown through the reality television genre where we see the use of stereotypical and highly constructed characters that express their common human emotions and are faced with ‘un-scripted’ situations which are often relatable to audiences. Therefore, these characters and situations can teach us important things about the society in which we live.
The use of zombies, which can be seen in a typical fantasy and/or horror genre production as well as the combination of the already built-up reality television drama ‘Big Brother’ (made out to be based on real life events), prompts the audience to begin questioning the difference between what is imagined and what is real life. We are essentially faced with an entertaining yet typical and familiar story, whilst also being shown something incredibly different to what we have ever seen before, leading us to question whether the consumption of hyper reality has been taken too far.
But I also think beyond this, the use of zombies in this television program leads us to consider what audiences see as their own ‘threats’ within the real world. It is not just their own consumption of reality TV and whether what we are shown is real or not, but the threats we are faced with every day on our news whether it be to do with terrorism or natural disasters. I think it is also important to consider the fact that within Deadset, it is not only the audience who become the zombies, but the producers of this spoof version of Big Brother, which perhaps suggests that the threats we are faced with are often home-grown and the people we believe give us reliable information, are perhaps also ‘threats’ to audiences. It becomes a question again, linking back to the idea within Deadset, of what is real and what is imagined and can we truly believe everything that we see on television?
Clarke, S 2008, ‘Television: Brit Auds Eat Up E4 Zombies’, Variety, vol. 413, no. 3, pp. 30.
Venzo, P 2009, ‘Reality Really Does Bite: ‘Dead Set’ and the Development of Reality TV’, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, no. 163, pg. 92-97.