‘Lifestyle television’ is a term that emerged in the 1990s to describe programs that differed from earlier information or advice shows due to the addition of some entertainment components and various characteristics of reality television. Sociologically, ‘lifestyle’ had come to refer to the way contemporary social subjects gained identity from their consumption of particular products and services, and engaged in an ongoing ‘project of self’. Television programs providing advice about houses and gardens, clothing, food and wine, leisure pursuits—even ways of raising children and reconfiguring the body—capitalised on this trend.
Gardening presenter Don Burke has long claimed that Burke’s Backyard (1987–2004) was the first lifestyle television program in the world. However, the category had many predecessors: cooking shows were one of the earliest types of programs screened; state-based ABC gardening shows had existed since the end of the 1960s, prior to the 1991 launch of the national Gardening Australia; and daytime television was replete with advice aimed at the housewife viewer—primarily in magazine-style morning or afternoon shows, and often quite close to advertorial.
Burke’s Backyard looked at all aspects of Australian backyard life. Typically of lifestyle shows, it combined a cast of regular experts with both ordinary people and celebrities as exemplars of depicted practices. The next most significant appearance was ABC’s The Home Show (1990–93), presented by Maggie Tabberer and Richard Zachariah, which moved inside the house to focus on ways in which people’s domestic settings could be fashionably improved. Together with other ABC lifestyle shows, like Holiday and Everybody, it was pulled from the schedule in 1994 following a scandal about program funding being linked to favourable product mentions. Except for food programs, the growing genre of lifestyle shows moved completely to the commercial networks after this. SBS screens some relevant programs, primarily ethnic food shows but also gardening and environmental living programs.
In some ways, food programs are the least changed by the shift from advice to lifestyle, with many early examples stressing entertainment and their presenters achieving celebrity status. Food programs (local and imported) were the earliest type of information program to be screened in prime-time. Entertaining with Kerr, presented by chef Graham Kerr on Network Ten, was one of the highest rating Australian shows during the 1960s, and involved Kerr cooking for a prominent guest each week. Often cooking shows were screened on the ABC—indeed, between the departure of Kerr and the 2000 move of Jamie Oliver from the ABC to Ten, no cooking show was broadcast on prime-time commercially, although there were daytime examples. Most of the ABC programs were imported British ones, with Keith Floyd the most prominent of the celebrity chefs.
Food television has shifted in importance as food has become a more powerful lifestyle indicator. Each channel has its own celebrity presenters, and the proportion of the schedule devoted to food programs has grown substantially. One substantial difference has been competition. In MasterChef Australia (Ten, 2009– ), ordinary people compete at advanced cooking tasks set by professional chefs or cooks, such as Nigella Lawson. Both celebrity, professional and junior versions have screened.
Makeover programs were introduced to Australia in 1998 with a local version of the British competitive interior design show Changing Rooms. Many other formatted lifestyle shows were to follow. Before the Seven Network could get its British garden makeover format Ground Force to air in 2000, Burke’s Backyard spun off Backyard Blitz (2000–07) with Jamie Durie for Nine—which was far more successful. Durie remains a prominent lifestyle figure, both nationally and in the United States. Makeovers drew on elements of reality television, introducing melodrama to the lifestyle genre by changing the focus from the details of the tasks to the reactions of the recipients. Melodrama also featured in the stories recipients told, explaining why they deserved the gifts sponsors had provided to the production companies.
As well as melodrama, competition and the incorporation of ordinary and celebrity participants, another element of reality television shared with lifestyle is contrived set-ups. To maximise the surprise elements of the reveal, ordinary recipients on shows such as 2004’s Renovation Rescue were sent on holidays unaware of what was being done to their houses. A contrived set-up and competition were very notable in The Block, an Australian-originating format sold widely, though never to repeat the ratings success of its first local series in 2003. Durie hosted the first two series, in which four couples competed to renovate one apartment each of a block of flats in Bondi. The couple making the most at auction won. Scott Cam, a carpenter who had appeared in several property-related programs on the Nine Network, hosted later series (2010– ) and won the 2014 Gold Logie.
Not all property shows are makeovers. Some, like Hot Property and Hot Auctions, are real estate programs aimed at buying or selling houses, though such Australian shows often do some work on the properties offered for sale. Many imported programs concerned with finding properties for people wanting to move or acquire a second home, like the British Location, Location, Location, screen on pay television.
Pay television is an important site for lifestyle programming. Most lifestyle shows on Foxtel are repeats of older Australian programs, or imports that have not had free-to-air screening here, but there are some local examples made directly for pay, such as the gardening programs presented by Brendan Moar and Antonia Kidman’s shows on parenting. The significance of lifestyle for pay television is shown most clearly in the increase in the number of dedicated lifestyle channels. Initially there was only the LifeStyle Channel (est. 1997), but this has expanded to LifeStyle Food, LifeStyle You and LifeStyle Home. Several other channels screen programs focused on the body, from cosmetic surgery to clothing transformations. The most successful of these lifestyle shows, however, has been on free-to-air: Ten’s local version of the American format The Biggest Loser, which features overweight contestants being slimmed down by diet and exercise until one is declared the winner.
There has been considerable lifestyle media crossover—for instance, the Better Homes and Gardens magazine (1978– ) inspired a Seven Network program (1995– ), while television programming has given rise to a number of magazines, including Burke’s Backyard (1998–2013), the ABC’s Delicious (2001– ) and MasterChef Magazine (2010–12).
REFs: F. Bonner, Ordinary Television (2003) and ‘Lifestyle Television: Gardening and the Good Life’, in E. Potter and T. Lewis (eds), Ethical Consumption (2011); B. Rosenberg, ‘Masculine Makeovers: Lifestyle Television, Metrosexuals and Real Blokes’, in G. Palmer (ed.), Exposing Lifestyle Television (2008).