Cast Offs: truly groundbreaking?
We've been very excited about the much-talked about Cast Offs comedy mockumentary described as being 'groundbreaking'. It's a spoof reality show where disabled contestants are left to fend for themselves on an island. Cast-away ... Cast Offs ... get it? Tonight, Channel 4, 11pm.
It's hard to take disability projects too seriously when they have the G-word attached to them because typically they've been far removed from the daily experiences of disabled people. All very well and good, many of Ouch's messageboarders say, but if that's all there is on TV then we're all being poorly represented which isn't breaking new ground. When such programmes air, we rarely get feedback from disabled people here at Ouch ... but we do get hundreds of emails from people touched by the disability stories they've seen, and wanting to help.
The BBC's Beyond Boundaries reality trekking endurance show was criticised by many for failing to show well rounded disabled characters in their daily lives - something felt to be much lacking in the TV schedules. In the Ouch! office we've understood for some time that Channel 4 have been keen to mercilessly rip it to pieces. And seemingly that's what Cast Offs is set to do.
Whereas disabled people on BB were seen to trek across jungles and deserts, in one scene Cast Offs reportedly shows a wheelchair user taking hours to try and get out of a sand dune. Wheelchairs and sand don't mix too well and courage, determination and bravery are not the words we'd reach for when stuck in a flippin' dune.
Will it be groundbreaking? The sheer number of disabled actors in a twice weekly drama is already a groundbreaking step forward. Two disabled writers bringing their own experiences to the table is pretty groundbreaking too. And two disabled writers creating a disability drama series is indeed groundbreaking as far as we can tell.
When Channel 4 news finished last Tuesday and Jon Snow said goodnight, the next thing I saw was a trailer for the show where the word spastic was used almost immediately. I wonder how many suppertime viewers choked as they heard it. Disabled people often use the word as a term of comradery or to describe a stereotypical por media disability image; it wasn't used in an offensive way and I personally hope Ofcom doesn't receive letters about it.
So who's going to watch? Gawpers? Comedy fans? Ultra liberal occupational therapists who will then write a round robin email about it the next morning? And ... disabled people themselves?
There's a hell of a lot of disabled people in the UK ... and ya know what ... a lot of them watch an awful lot of telly. Figures say around 10 million, and they have an 80 billion pound spend annually, and programme makers, with these kinds of potential viewing figures, should be minded to aim shows in their direction with some good basic disability knowledge and contributions on board to draw them in.
Cast Offs is on Channel 4 Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 11pm for the next three weeks.
• Mat Fraser and Kiruna Stamell, stars of the show, have presented our monthly Talk Show together many times. Download or listen to the show here.
• Read Cast offs: the verdict in today's Independent. Find out what a group of disabled viewers think of the show after a sneak preview.