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The Greatest Show Never Made Review 2023 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
In the early 2000s, the nation was obsessed with reality TV. Big Brother had become a cultural phenomenon, Pop Idol was turning everyday people into pop stars and Survivor was pushing the limits of what a shot at fame or the chance of a cash prize could make people do. One British man, Nik Russian, claiming to be the boss at a TV production company, saw the spectacle unfold and decided to create his own reality TV series.
Prime Video’s new three-part documentary, The Greatest Show Never Made, revealed exactly how he did it. Or, more accurately, how he didn’t.
As you’ve likely guessed by the title of this series, Russian’s programme – known only as “Project MS-2” – never made it to broadcast. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t made. In 2002, hundreds of people turned up to a conference centre on an island in the Thames to audition for a year-long reality TV series which offered the participants a very attractive £100,000 in cash.
The advert in The Stage magazine didn’t explain what the show would entail, but at the audition the hopefuls were told to bake a cake. The catch? They had no money, no ingredients, no oven.
Of those who managed to convince unsuspecting locals to let them commandeer their kitchens, 30 were chosen to take part in the supposed series. They left their homes, relationships and jobs behind, not knowing the baffling, frustrating world of deceit and obfuscation they were about to enter. The entire “show” lasted just four days – not much of a return on ditching your entire life, is it?
In the documentary, we watch the debacle unfold through the memories of six of the would-be contestants: Tim, Daniel, Lucie, John, Jane and Rosy. Ordinary people who wanted to be rich or famous or simply to embark on a new adventure, each of them had given up their lives – jobs, relationships, even homes – wholesale in order to take part in the show for an entire 12 months.
Even two decades later, talking about their expectations of what could lie ahead, they seemed giddy. “My dreams were all coming true,” remembers Jane, who, in a real Sliding Doors moment, had only won a place on the series after another contestant had dropped out post-audition.
Upon arriving for the first day of filming, in the middle of a park in central London, they were finally told the programme’s concept: starting with nothing, they had one year to make £1m together. They weren’t to be given any food; there was no house for them to live in. They had to be completely self-sufficient. “We’re going to make our own prize money,” said a bewildered John.
While others dropped out after reading the 10-page contract and realised that no channel had agreed to air Russian’s series, the six featured in The Greatest Show Never Made stuck it out, all moving into Tim’s Dalston flat. They decided to make their own meta-reality series about their bewildering predicament and for four days they scrounged free food from kind strangers and created their own Big Brother-esque diary room to share their thoughts on Russian’s machinations.
It all came to a dramatic end when after two days Russian, also homeless for reasons that are only briefly alluded to as “troubles” and “trauma”, also moved into the flat. Sensing an opportunity for revenge, the group contacted local news reporters, locked their puppet master into the flat and forced him to explain what had happened. Overnight he became a hate figure, while the contestants were branded “wannabes” who were so desperate for fame and money they allowed themselves to be duped.
How, you may wonder, could someone believe Russian’s lies? But this was a time when reality TV was in its infancy and the success of Big Brother gave the wannabe stars an implicit trust that everything was above board.
This was just before everything and everyone could be verified by a two-second google and Russian (who apparently planned to somehow sell the show after it had been made) made his business look legitimate by creating yet more false identities claiming to be production assistants.
No one questioned that Tim, a camera enthusiast, would be the one filming the entire thing – after all, plenty of reality shows ask contestants to capture the footage themselves. It’s a mark of authenticity, right? The naivety is impossible to comprehend nowadays.
The Greatest Show Never Made is less a documentary about the fake reality show than it is a profile of the Svengali who orchestrated it and Russian, whose real name is actually Keith and who now writes novels about abusive relationships under the moniker N Quentin Woolf, is the headline act of the documentary.
The first two episodes spend a lot of time building him up as a shadowy figure with “satanic” (as a young Rosy put it) intentions to run off with the money the contestants made. Turns out he was just a chancer who worked in Waterstones part time.
When he appears in the final part of the doc he couldn’t be further from the evil mastermind we’d come to expect. He portrays himself simply as an ambitious young man attempting to make something of his life. He’s deeply remorseful, tears prickling his eyes as he recalls being homeless and hated in the aftermath. Is it all an act? That’s up to us to decide (personally, I’m willing to believe him).
One of the film’s failures is just how little it explores how detrimental the experience really was and so for a documentary about a would-be television programme that ostensibly upended people’s lives, The Greatest Show Never Made is strangely uplifting.
The reunion between the six contestants (who lost contact after they returned to their normal lives) is genuinely moving, as is watching Russian hear them share their well wishes and forgiveness for him. That everyone is living a content life out of the spotlight is the happiest of endings.
This isn’t a takedown of the dangers of reality TV, nor is it a vilification of a conman – The Greatest Show Never Made isn’t interested in being just another scammer doc. Rather, it’s a study of human foibles and how our need to be seen as special and important can be our downfall. Riveting, at times unbelievable and ultimately hopeful, it’s one of the most bizarre yet optimistic documentaries I’ve ever seen.