Pavla Schauerova - on gorillas, reality shows and The Unmasking

2005 was definitely the year for reality TV shows - at one point there were two versions of Big Brother running on rival commercial stations, and acres of coverage was given over in the Czech media to the previous night's exploits in the villa. But late last year a new reality show - Odhaleni, or the Unmasking - was launched, featuring not humans, but gorillas monkeying around for the cameras. Live footage from the gorilla enclosure is broadcast over the Internet and viewers vote by SMS text message for their favourite gorilla. The proceeds from the SMSes go towards saving gorillas in the wild. Odhaleni is actually the brainchild of the people here at Czech Radio, rather than Czech TV, so for this week's One on One Rob Cameron spoke to PR and Marketing Manager Pavla Schauerova for the online Czech Radio station Leonardo.

Pavla, how did Odhaleni come about?

"Actually the idea came from the head of the project, the editor-in-chief of Leonardo [Czech Radio's new digital channel] Miroslav Bobek. He has a lot of experience with animal projects, he suggested that using something other than human beings would make a good reality show. We managed to put our main actors - who are gorillas, rather than human beings - into a 'villa' and they just behave in a normal way."

Is it all a bit of a joke or is there a serious side to Odhaleni?

"I think it's got everything. Part of it is a kind of parody, because we wanted to make fun of these reality shows which are now on TV. And then the other part of it is to make sure we can show how gorillas live and how they are similar to us."

So you have more than a dozen cameras installed in the gorilla enclosure and they transfer footage of the five gorillas onto the Internet, and it's also shown on TV. What does the winner get?

"The winner gets not 10, not 11, but twelve melons!"

Melon being the Czech slang for million.

"Yes. We've been asked whether they're going to get the money or the fruit. It's a bit of a joke. In Czech we say 'melon' and we mean money, and sometimes the fruit."

At what stage are we in the competition?

"At the moment we're somewhere in the middle, because we've just finished the first part of the SMSes that are sent to each actor, and now we've started the second part, where we have to find out who's going to be the winner and who's going to win the twelve melons."

And can you reveal to us who's in the lead?

"Guess who!"

Er, little Moja, the baby gorilla?

"No, because she's not a competitor. She doesn't compete. She's out of competition because she's too young and we wanted to let her play and not bother her with the competition. No, actually it's Richard."

Richard is the silverback male?

"Yes, he is."

I've been to the gorilla enclose and I've seen the cameras and the set-up that you have. Do the gorillas any idea that something unusual is going on?

"I don't know. I don't think we can see inside their minds but I suppose they just notice a little bit of different movement and that there are too many people around them. But actually they can't feel anything else because we were very worried about not harming them. When you put cameras and so on inside the pavilion you can't harm them, so I don't think they actually have any feeling that we're doing something to them, but definitely know that something is going on around them."

I ask that because obviously humans have a sort of sixth sense - you sometimes know when someone's staring at you. Do you think gorillas have the same sixth sense?

"I personally think they do, but I can't say."

There have been similar projects that Czech Radio and Miroslav Bobek has been involved in in the past. Tell me a bit more about them.

"Actually he was involved in a project which has been going now for 10 years, it's a project involving black storks. They started to follow black storks 10 years ago, and it's been quite successful. It has its own website and a lot of people know about the project. They published a kind of brochure, they put video streaming and graphics on the site. So it's quite successful and Miroslav's continuing with it in the future."

And how successful has Odhaleni been?

"I would say it's quite successful, because compared to the other reality shows, which get a lot of support and money for publicity and marketing and so on, we don't have that much. But people still know about us and they know there's something slightly different about it - it's a slightly different reality show. And people are quite keen on it, they like it."

Has the reaction from the public been limited to the Czech Republic or abroad as well? Because you can of course access the website anywhere in the world.

"Yes, you can access it anywhere in the world, and actually we've had a lot of success around the world, especially in America and other countries. We've had questions and interest from France, Hungary and many other European countries. But at the moment I can't tell you exactly from where."

Can people abroad also take part in the voting for their favourite gorilla?

"Actually they can't, because we can't manage the SMS voting for foreign mobile operators. But if they want they can still contribute by buying the products that we have on the website. So if they look at the website they can buy some products with the odhaleni logo and they can contribute money this way."

It seems Czechs have become obsessed with reality shows, whether it's homo sapiens or gorillas. What does that tell us do you think about the state of Czech society?

"I can't tell you because I don't watch the real reality shows! This one, with gorillas, is a bit different, and I think we can learn something from them. But a normal reality show for me is a kind of fun that I don't understand too much, because I think it's too personal. You see really the feelings and everything which is inside the other person, which I would never show to others. So I don't understand it."

But do you think it's a sign of TV breaking new boundaries or is it a sign that they're desperate to come up with something new?

"I can't tell you. I think it's because all these TV programmes run and run and they don't have that much new stuff so I suppose they're just trying to find something new."

When Odhaleni comes to an end are there plans for any similar projects in the future?

"We hope we can still work on a multimedia project, which we would like to follow this first step and continue. But we will have to find out if we have money and time and people to work on it."