How The Other Half Live

I’ve been watching the UK TV series ‘How the Other Half Live’ on TV One – and its got me thinking. I know – a reality show that makes you think! What is the world coming to?

It’s refreshing to watch a reality show that isn’t all about confrontation, exploitation or competition, but it is not an easy watch.

Each week, the programme profiles a rich family and the poor family they are sponsoring. It takes the concept of international child sponsorship, but does it within the United Kingdom – enabling the families to meet and explore the impact of the donations made. Central to all the shows have been the children – who take lead roles in explaining their situations and showcasing their home environments.

On many levels the show is heart warming and affirming. In most cases the children (both rich and poor) display real depth of character and empathy with each other, and the families have found things in common despite their vastly different wealth and lifestyles.

What the show doesn’t shy away from are the questions of judgement or arrogance that could get in the way of such generosity. In most cases at the start, the wealthy adults express hope that the receiving families won’t fritter the cash away or waste it on frivolous things. Some have acknowledged the awkwardness and potential of coming across like Lady Bountiful, while the poorer parents have worried before hosting the wealthier families in their extremely modest homes. But over all, the show is done with sensitivity and compassion – ensuring everyone is portrayed respectfully.

As a viewer, it is a challenge to watch on several levels. I admit to feeling a little judgemental near the start of some episodes as wealthy children show off their extravagant lifestyles, mansions and designer label wardrobes and handbags, but they all seem to redeem themselves during the shows – displaying a compassion for their fellow human beings while realising how fortunate they are. Watching the poorer children wide-eyed and awestruck by the homes and wealth of their benefactors makes me wonder how they cope after the shows end – do they feel even worse off or jealous? Presumably there is some support behind the scenes to help the families cope with the different worlds they are exposed to and their return to normal life – but none of this is evident on screen.

The show makes me question my own spending habits and how I could use my money less selfishly. Seeing the extreme hardship and restricted living conditions of the children in the show is gut wrenching, and makes one want to help similar families here. Could that work? How and who would manage such processes between Remuera and Otara, Plimmerton and Cannons Creek or Fendalton and Aranui? Recognising the impact of their contributions motivates the wealthy families to give more and in targeted ways – sometimes offering a job or making a difference in non-financial ways. While the extremes of rich and poor make good television – isn’t there room for those of more modest means to contribute in real life?

When making a difference is such a major motivation to give, there must be ways to make these connections here without causing chaos, but right now it’s not clear to me how. And while most don’t have the resources to give to the same level as those in the show, some creative approaches here could build the commitment of donors in this country.

‘How the Other Half Live’ recently finished screening Thursday evenings on TV One.

LIVING CHANNEL – Tuesdays from 14 September, 8.30pm

How The Other Half Live continues with an all new series, and is a bold, controversial and illuminating social experiment from the creators of The Secret Millionaire. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been wider, but we’re more likely to turn our attention to poverty thousands of kilometres away than to those in need just down the road. In each of these groundbreaking programmes, a wealthy family decides to assist a family living below the poverty line by handing over substantial amounts of money. Each family hopes that their children will gain from the experience by understanding what life is like for others. The aim is not simply to transform the lives of the families but to highlight the reality and scale of a problem which now exists in our own backyards.

8:00pm Monday, September 6 on TV One

Marc Ellis recons he’s pretty normal and in the second series of How The Other Half Lives (tonight on TV ONE at 8pm) he jumps the fence of normality to check out New Zealanders who have chosen to live a lifestyle outside the mainstream.

For Ellis, the series is about the different ways various communities measure success. “Clearly there are many out there who have jumped off the treadmill and who have chosen a simpler or different way of life in the pursuit of happiness, [How The Other Half Lives] is designed to show the average Kiwi still on the treadmill other ways of measuring success.”

Along the way, there is much to be learnt from the New Zealand communities living outside the norm, and Ellis’ experiences have helped him to truly appreciate that happiness is an interpretation of a person’s circumstances.

From meditating and chanting with Buddhist Monks, to fishing with the Italians of Island Bay; casting spells with Witches; and running away to join the circus, Ellis discovers some of the diverse communities that make up New Zealand, breaking down a few preconceived stereotypes along the way.

In the first episode, Ellis heads into the Canterbury wilderness with a group of hardcore Survivalists who believe that the world as we know it, is about to change forever as a result of wide-scale civil unrest. His mission is to find out just what they have planned to ensure their survival, and from where the threat will come.

LIVING CHANNEL – Tuesdays from 24 August, 8.30pm

How The Other Half Live is a bold, controversial and illuminating social experiment from the creators of The Secret Millionaire. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been wider, but we’re more likely to turn our attention to poverty thousands of kilometres away than to those in need just down the road. In each of these groundbreaking programmes, a wealthy family decides to assist a family living below the poverty line by handing over substantial amounts of money. Each family hopes that their children will gain from the experience by understanding what life is like for others. The aim is not simply to transform the lives of the families but to highlight the reality and scale of a problem which now exists in our own backyards.

throng 640x90

Here’s a summary of how the new Kiwi shows of 2009 have fared based on episodes screened to date…

Go Girls and 7 Days have been picked up for a season season.

Scroll across to see more shows.

Footnotes:
Data sourced from AGB Nielsen, showing average total NZ viewer numbers (5+).
Averages to date do not include the premiere episode viewership figures.
Data for episodes screened to date: October 24, 2009.

Tuesday 9 June, 9.30pm

With buttered chicken the extent of Marc Ellis’ knowledge of Indian culture, he was keen to discover a little more about the large population of Indians living in New Zealand, on tonight’s episode of How The Other Half Lives at 9.30pm on TV ONE.

When Ellis and his team set out to select communities for this series they wanted to show diverse views of the world and spend a few days with them. From Chatham Islanders to Muslims, the desire was to enter their environment with fresh eyes to examine and enjoy the differences.

Ellis says, “We have travelled the length and breadth of New Zealand and have spent time with everyone from hippies to coalminers, from Indians to bushmen, it’s been good crack.”

“To be honest, the series has been a real eye opener. I knew very little about a lot of the topics aside from a few basic stereotypes, so it was a great time to spend a few days with people getting to know a little bit about the way they see and do things and what lights their candle.”

Tonight’s episode sees Ellis thrown in the deep end, experiencing the numerous rituals of a thriving Indian community, along with their hard-working lifestyles and traditions.

Tuesday 12 May, 9.30pm

This week on How The Other Half Lives, Marc Ellis joins the Hare Krishnas, well-known for their Friday-night chanting on Auckland’s Queen Street (at 9.30pm on TV ONE).

Ellis dons robes, shaves his mane, and moves in with devotees at their Kumeu premises to find out what it’s all about. Ellis believes more and more mainstream Kiwis are looking for the answers outside a 9-5 existence. He says there must be more to life that aspiring to buy a newer car and living in a slick neighbourhood, and that is where this series might, without that specific intention, give a few people something to think about.

Spending time with the Hare Krishnas, Ellis says there is something peaceful and assured about the way they carry themselves. “Almost an understanding as to their place. I mean there has to be something to it – they practice abstinence, say no to red meat and beer, and still have a grin from ear to ear.”

He adds: “To be honest, the series was a real eye-opener. I knew very little [of some of these groups], aside a few basic stereotypes, so it was a great time to spend a few days with people getting to know a little bit about the way they see and do things, and what lights their candle.”

How The Other Half Lives follows Marc Ellis around New Zealand as he steps in to the shoes of people who have chosen to live a lifestyle outside the mainstream (tonight at 9.30pm on TV ONE).

From Friday-night chanting with Hare Krishnas, to hunting with East Coast bushmen, from playing cricket with Indians, to a visit to the remote Chatham Islands, Ellis discovers some of the diverse communities that make up New Zealand, busting a few stereotypes along the way.

“The series is a bit of a celebration really,” says Ellis, a former All Black who has become a familiar face on New Zealand television. “There are a lot of people out there who have smiles on their faces because they’ve chosen to do things slightly different.”

He adds: “To be honest, the series was a real eye-opener. I knew very little [of some of these groups], aside a few basic stereotypes, so it was a great time to spend a few days with people getting to know a little bit about the way they see and do things, and what lights their candle.”

Marc reckons a growing number of mainstream Kiwis are looking for something beyond a 9am-5pm existence. For example, he says, “There is something peaceful and assured about the way the Hare Krishnas carry themselves, almost an understanding as to their place. I mean, there has to be something to it they practice abstinence, say no to red meat and beer, and still have a grin from ear to ear.”

Tonight, Marc brings his preconceived ideas about “hippies” to Nelson’s Riverside Community and gets familiar with communal living. Marc milks the community’s cows, recites poetry for a women’s peace day, gathers food from the garden and dances around the bonfire.