Did the Real Hustle really hustle?
The idea that a TV programme about people being scammed - or hustled - could actually have itself done just that by hiring those who were hustled is somewhat amusing. So here's how the 'con' is meant to have been worked:
The mark = the BBC
The con = to sell a reality programme playing off the interest in/success of the BBC drama series Hustle but featuring real life people who had actually been hustled - except they were not real life but paid to pretend they had been hustled.
The Mail on Sunday splashed the exposee today and - insofar as what the paper has established is in fact true - then this is indeed a disgrace. The programme concept is an engaging one but if they have cut corners and executed it by staging the scams and sequences then that is a deceptive as the scams themselves.
What the production company have been reported as saying is that: "Occasionally, because of, for example, equipment problems, we have had to re-shoot short elements of the set up after the hustle has been completed and that can involve giving some direction to the 'marks' to ensure that the footage matches.
"However it is completely untrue to say that any 'mark' was an actor who was fully briefed in advance and paid to act as though they had been hustled."
So what might one conclude? - being cynical and playing on semantics one could suggest that if one were inviting people to go and try out a fake cash machine to see if they would fall for it or give them some money to play roulette and see if they spot a scam then the people being invited or given the money may still have 'real reactions' and may 'have been conned' but the whole scenario will have been set up. This differs from a retelling accounts of people who really have been tricked or setting up a con and then seeing who falls for it.
There is a big distinction between staging something to reconstruct real events and creating events to stage something seemingly real.
Reconstructions are editorially permissable but blatant constructions are not. As the Mail on Sunday article points out, the BBC has been hit with this issue before. If this does turn out to be a con then it will be a case of what was an original good drama series being replaced by poor reality. If its not real then don't fake it.
BBC Editorial Guidelines