Paul Watson: Influential innovator
It is almost a cliché in British television circles to say that Paul Watson is ‘the father of reality television’. He rejects the description in a typically robust way. ‘How can I be a father to those little bastards?’ He is, all the same, an immensely influential figure in the documentary world and I would argue that while he cannot be blamed for ‘reality’, he is – to continue the analogy – ‘father’ to the genre known as ‘docusoap’. The series he invented and executive produced for the BBC in 1993, Sylvania Waters, has been followed up and imitated countless times. (This series is discussed in some detail in the chapter of this book about Brian Hill, who directed it, together with Kate Woods.)
Sylvania Waters is pure documentary in the sense that it is a portrait of real people living their normal lives – a middle class family with a home in a suburb of Sydney, Australia – in spite of the constant presence of a film crew. However, it is edited like a
drama serial, with each episode having multiple storylines, some of which are left unresolved at the end of each programme so the audience has to tune in next week to find out what happens. Incidental music is used to enhance atmosphere and the programmes are narrated, not by a professional voice-over expert but by a member of the family. Although the whole series is real, nothing staged, it still feels like we are watching a drama or, more specifically, a ‘soap opera’.