The quality (or should we say popularity) of what’s on TV always ramps up as we head through the autumn months. The really big shows – Strictly, X-Factor, I’m a Celebrity, The Apprentice, are all at full tilt as the end of the year approaches. So whilst the Great British Bake Off might have ended, there’s plenty more light entertainment to keep your eyes on. We take a look at the history of the big shows this autumn – but also trends in telly – and what might innovate or make a comeback in the coming years.
There’s never been a better time be a telly addict. Online catch-up and streaming services mean that you don’t have to miss a minute of prime time programming. So whether you’re first and foremost a Strictly person – but like a little X-Factor on the side (or vice-versa) – you can watch one whilst it’s broadcast and the other later on. They are staples of Saturday night and fill our conversation for the first part of the working week. Then there’s the mid-week reality hit through shows like The Apprentice.
But these shows have been around for a long time now – they were a revolution when they first hit our screens – and they still have a massive fan base. But the viewing statistics show some stars are waning, whilst others are burning brighter than ever. But which are glowing red hot and which are cooling off?
The X-Factor (if you include its predecessor talent shows Pop Idol and Posters) has been on our screens for 15 years. A familiar format, the judges seem to pick a variety of talented and extrovert performers – with the extroverts there to provide controversy and entertainment. X-factor is on air every Saturday for a scary amount of time from late August through to the penultimate weekend before Christmas. The format of public auditions, bootcamp, judges houses and then live performances has been around for a few years now, but we enjoy the ‘journey’ narrative behind each contestant and the rags or heartbreak to riches stories that
It’s given us some very successful commercial acts – Will Young, Olly Murs, One Direction, Leona Lewis, Gilrs Aloud (and Cheryl – insert-her-current-surname-here Cole), Little Mix and Alexandra Burke – to name a few. Whilst producers tweak the format and change the judging panel, but in 2016 viewing figures are down on 2015 (which was something of a recovery year for a show that had started waning) – which had an audience of 7.1 million viewers on the first weekend it went head-to-head with BBC’s Strictly. More worrying for Simon Cowell is that ITV have also bought the rights to The Voice, so have two vocal talent shows on their roster.
Strictly Come Dancing
Strictly has been around as long as the X-Factor (if you exclude its talent show predecessors) and has likewise been through a few changes of Judges – and of course the presenting team – when showbiz legend Sir Bruce Forsyth finally hung up his tap shoes and was replaced by Claudia Winkleman. But the core format has pretty much remained unchanged. Celebrities of stage, screen and sports are paired up with professional dancers and each week strut their stuff through a variety of dance styles. Each week one is eliminated from the competition – with the final say going to the judges.
In 2016, Strictly has been outperforming the X-Factor, the opening night saw it draw in 1.5million more viewers than it’s ITV rival. Of course – the demographic of each show is different and it may well be that more X-Factor fans are prefer to use catch up services, so the ‘live broadcast’ viewing figures are lower.
The Apprentice is another popular prime-time programme that started riding the reality TV wave in 2004. Kicking off on BBC Two in 2005, and moving to BBC One for etc 32007 series, we’ve come to love Lord Alan Sugar’s acerbic wit and take-no-prisoners approach to business. Whether it’s genuine reality is certainly open to debate (the boardroom is actually a TV set in West London – but Shhh, we didn’t tell you that) but it’s nothing if not entertaining. Each week another business task is stuffed up by one team, and the team member at the route of the trouble brutally kicked out by Lord Sugar. We’d love to see what would happen if the former car aerial salesman from Hackney was thrown in as one of the contestants. Now that would be a programme worth watching.
I’m a Celebrity… get me out of Here.
It’s another of the runaway early-noughties reality TV successes (It first aired in 2007 – yes it’s been around 16 years!). Stick a bunch of celebrities (admittedly of varying levels of celebrity-ness) in the Jungle for etc best part of three weeks and see how they get on. Barely feed them – so they are hungry – and make them take part in a bunch if humiliating, unsavoury or simply difficult tasks.
It’s compelling viewing, not least because the trials and the lack of food in camp make for lots of fractious celebrities and heated disagreements. There’s nothing we love more than an onscreen bust up between well known celebrities and the intervention and peacemaking of others.
So what’s next?
16 years is a long time for a Television genre to succeed. And there’s evidence that audiences are getting restless with ‘Reality’ for something new and fresh to hit their screens. But as most of what’s on TV is a reinvention of all that’s gone before (for example – there used to be a talent show called opportunity knocks) perhaps we don’t have to look that far. The weekend variety show has made half a come-back with Ant and Dec’s Saturday night takeaway and Britain’s got Talent, but we’re not at Two Ronnies levels yet, despite there being a thirst for some lighthearted primetime viewing. Maybe as we speak, there’s a young writing partnership out there who are putting together the next big Saturday night format entertainment show worthy of the Two Ronnies.