In recent years, conversations around reality TV have been dominated by calls for accountability when it comes to protecting the mental health of the contestants. Primetime series like ITV2's Love Island have been central to this debate, after multiple cast members disclosed the lack of mental health support they received following their departure from the dating show. It was revealed that the series producers' absence of care most affected those who weren’t seen as big players on the show, leaving non-winners to navigate the effects of overnight fame alone.
While well-discussed among those who have an interest in reality television, the issues of industry liability and mental health have never been addressed on screen, until now. A new one-off BBC Three drama written by Reggie Yates, entitled Make Me Famous, aims to delve deep into the topic, highlighting the difficulties of fast fame, social media stardom and waning public interest. Centred around a fictional reality TV series called Love Or Lust, the hourlong drama follows contestant Billy (Tom Brittney, Grantchester) as he grapples to sustain his celebrity status in the year following his appearance on the show.
When we meet Billy, fresh off TV screens post-Love or Lust, he’s in the throes of public appearances at local nightclubs and adoring fans requesting selfies on the street. From what we can see he's loving life, living in a penthouse apartment and uploading paid social media posts to his millions of online followers. But the cracks begin to show when the new series of Love Or Lust starts to grab public attention. At a clothing launch he confesses his concerns to his former flame and fellow ex-contestant, Michelle (Tilly Keeper, Eastenders) who promises to organise a meeting with her management to help him secure better jobs. But a one-night stand with another girl tarnishes the plan, throwing Billy back into the press as the bad boy who broke Michelle’s heart.
Throughout the show, scenes of Billy’s present-day existence are spliced with his Love Or Lust audition tapes from the previous year. Bouncing back and forth between his cocky on-camera persona and his lonely existence as a once-popular TV star, we see how quickly things go wrong. Having quit a steady career in recruitment to join the show, Billy soon learns that reality TV fame is far too fickle to depend on financially, with his paycheque reliant on him remaining in public favour. And in a world where one bad article or Twitter thread holds the power to plunge him into bankruptcy, Billy’s mental health quickly starts to decline.
Billy’s day-to-day life as a fading star takes up the majority of the narrative but it's the retrospective audition sequences which tell us the most about Billy's experience with the show. Hitting him with pinpoint questions and suggestive language, the casting directors infer that if Billy is willing to 'play the game' then he will get the life that he has always dreamed of. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the show's producers are eerily interested in his vulnerabilities, digging deeper to discover what will make him ‘relatable’ to audiences. It’s in these scenes that the drama feels most authentic, shining a light on the alarming mechanics that go into creating a successful ‘constructed’ reality series.
Overall, the on-the-nose references to social media algorithms and protein powder make the show feel more like a Love Island documentary than a scripted drama, but Make Me Famous still succeeds in its attempt to educate audiences on the perils of fame’s flickering afterglow.
With the tragic real-life events of the last few years becoming the catalyst for better psychological care on some reality TV shows, many have branded the matter a closed case. But if on-set therapists and continued mental health observation long after a series finishes are required, then the question remains whether this form of entertainment is healthy, both for the contestants and the viewers at home. With some of summer’s biggest reality shows cancelled this year, Make Me Famous might seem ill-timed but perhaps it can make its greatest impact during the hiatus. Whatever your feelings after watching, the drama is sure to spark conversation both online and in the real world.