Surface reality only in DIY TV

Chris Johnston - Shadow or SubstanceSelf-help programs: the friendly face of reality TV. But scratch the surface, and even a friendly face can turn ugly on you. While it’s merely ironic that The Biggest Loser promotes healthy living but keeps you glued to your TV, there’s another, stealthier adversary being beamed into our homes that we’d be wise to note more carefully.

From Burke’s Backyard to Backyard Blitz, DIY programs simply bulge with all manner of handy hints, as gaggles of happy hosts clamour to offer their free-to-air advice. But in reality these programs are a veritable thorn in the side of real-life contractors—not quite bad for business, but certainly unhelpful to customer relations.

This is something Shane Campbell, a landscaper and small business owner from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, is all too aware of. Of particular concern to Campbell is that these shows cite material prices that are exclusive of labour costs, which can lead viewers to react with embarrassment (at best) or hostility (at worst) when they call a contractor out and receive a quote that’s far higher than they anticipated.

‘Clients think they are more informed,’ he says, ‘but they’re actually misinformed. The shows give a false sense of what goes into a job in terms of costing. People might watch and say, "I want to get this done", but then when they get their quote they get a bit of a shock. And it reflects badly on us contractors.’

Theresa Elliot, secretariat for the Queensland Association of Landscape Industries (the state’s peak body representing landscapers), couldn’t agree more. As well as the suppression of labour costs, she points out that in the stylised world of TV DIY, many niggly problems that can cause the price to swell incrementally are simply edited out, leaving viewers all but ignorant. ‘Those little things really add up,’ she says.

But it’s not just cost that’s misrepresented. Backyard Blitz fans may find themselves scratching their heads when a job finished in a matter of days by a handful of TV tradies takes the contractor they’ve hired much longer to complete.

‘There’s no way the amount of people shown can do that type of work in that short amount of time,’ says Elliot. There is, in fact, a lot more going on than meets the eye…or should I say, the camera lens.

QALI‘I went to trade school with guys who’ve worked on these shows,’ says Campbell, ‘and what happens is, [insert celebrity DIY guru here] does their bit in front of the camera and then walks off set, and contractors take over. Jobs that the shows say take three days—you couldn’t possibly do a quality job in that time. It’s a little bit of make-believe.’

Backyard BlitzMake-believe it may be, but it’s not all deceit and detriment either. Both Campbell and Elliot state unequivocally that DIY shows do an invaluable job of promoting landscaping as a concept—Campbell even admits to being a fan.

‘You can get great ideas,’ he enthuses. ‘Guys like Jamie Durie are not all for show, they’re qualified, they know what they’re talking about. I also watch to keep informed of what materials can be used, and where they’re available.’

But at the end of the day, he says, ‘I don’t think the shows take into account the impact it has on the trade.’ And there’s the rub. TV programs eschewing concern for the ‘little guy’ in favour of entertainment (read: commercial) value—it’s a familiar, yet unsettling refrain. It’d be naïve to expect major commercial networks to change their tune, but at least for the viewer, education is the perfect foil to misinformation.



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