In Australia programs like My Kitchen Rules, The Block and The Biggest Loser have helped boost interest and spending on fine dining, home renovations and fitness.
The audience have quite a romanticised view of what it's like out on the land. We don't want to see the reality of what it's like. Caroline Spencer, Fremantle MediaNow, a farming publication in the United Kingdom is trying to capitalise on the influence of reality television by producing Farmers Apprentice.
Described as a cross between The Apprentice and The Great British Bakeoff, Farmers Apprentice is an online video series that follows 10 contestants as they compete against each other in a variety of farming challenges.
Debbie Beaton is the editorial projects director for Farmers Weekly magazine, which produces Farmers Apprentice. She says the program was developed in response to the need for massive recruitment in agriculture.
‘There was a report in the UK saying that there are 60,000 new recruits needed by 2020 in order for the industry to keep just sustaining itself,’ Beaton says.
‘The problem is, this is an industry full of worthiness, but they do everything quietly and independently. We thought ... let’s do something that's going to have some real impact. We want to unashamedly show that farming is an attractive career option.’
Farmers Apprentice also built on a renewed interest in food and food production, which grew out of revamped cooking programs on television.
‘Chefs have put farming back in the spotlight. They're very keen to support provenance and local food and as a result, this has played well into the hands of farmers and producers,’ Beaton says.
‘It's transforming the image of farming.’
In its first season, the web-based program reached 10 million people, and was noticed by the UK Minister for Agriculture.
However, one of the biggest questions is whether it would have sufficient appeal to work in a prime-time slot on national television.
Caroline Spencer is the director for development at FremantleMedia, and has produced highly successful reality programs that include MasterChef, Farmer Wants a Wife and The Biggest Loser.
She says an Australian reality show focused on farming would be a hard sell.
‘If you look at something like MasterChef, everyone eats, so there is a reason people want to tune in by virtue of that, ’ says Spencer.
‘If you look at Farmer Wants a Wife, it was about a universal theme—love. That's why they have such broad mass appeal and why they resonate so strongly.’
‘I think we ... have quite a romanticised view of what it's like out on the land. We don't want to see the reality of what it's like.’
Despite this, Spencer admits that reality programs have shown that with the right production, a mundane activity like cooking can work on prime-time television.
‘I never fail to be surprised by some of the challenges we put on MasterChef—like chopping onions—that we managed to make entertaining,’ she says.