Gogglebox creators Stephen Lambert and Tania Alexander were at the Radio Times Festival last weekend, dishing some details on what goes into making one of Britain’s biggest shows. Joining them on stage were Gogglebox’s Giles and Mary, regaling the audience with tales of how the series, which follows people watching people on TV, is made.
So, what did we learn? Well, according to Lambert, one of the chief ingredients of Gogglebox’s success is the decision to feature people who’ve never shown an interest in being on television.
“Everybody on Gogglebox has been found and persuaded to be on the show and I think that’s the key to why they are likeable and why the show works, because we get to know these people,” he explained. “We’ve never advertised for people on Gogglebox.”
“I knew from the off that I didn’t want to put people on television who wanted to be on television,” agreed Gogglebox’s executive producer Alexander. “I wanted to put people on television that had the ability to make us laugh very naturally and that’s quite hard. Our lot are actually really good at what they do because they’re very receptive to what’s going on. There’s a lot of craft involved in Gogglebox but at the same time it’s totally down to our cast who are, I think, utterly brilliant.”
Indeed, Gogglebox’s success is testament to both the cast’s reactions to what they’re watching and the way in which each episode is cut together. “The whole skill of what Tania and her team are doing is they’re throwing away 99.9% of what people say,” revealed Lambert.
In order to source their entertaining contributors – which include the likes of Steph and Dom, Sandy and Sandra and the Moffat family – Lambert, Alexander and their team have done lots of what they call “street casting”, going into bridge clubs (where they found Leon and June) and hairdressers (which saw the discovery of Stephen and Chris). But they’ve also adopted some novel recruitment methods…
“We do a slightly unconventional and new way of casting which I haven’t done on any other show,” explained Alexander. “We used to turn up at people’s houses and hold up a card, whether it’s the Prime Minister or a Daily Mail headline or whatever it was, and just watch how quick they responded and how humorous and interesting and insightful those comments were.
“It shows very quickly the family dynamic – who has the loudest voice, who shushes the other, who rolls their eyes – and you could quickly tell because you weren’t asking them thousands of questions.”
Another way Gogglebox finds its contributors is through recommendations, a method which saw the recruitment of the Siddiqui family, as well as Giles and Mary (above) who joined the show in series five. “A friend of a friend recommended [them] and then I think I got [producer] Lucy Whelan to call to see if they were interested,” recalled Alexander. “Lucy came off the phone and said Giles is quite keen, Mary’s not a pushover – we’ve got a bit of a battle on our hands there.”
The couple were eventually enticed thanks to a ‘taster’ session which went so well it was broadcast on the main show. From there on in they were a regular feature, a commitment that sees the pair’s Wiltshire home turned into a “media circus” on a weekly basis.
That’s because another of the show’s many challenges is squeezing production into an impossibly small window as the team race to capture and edit their cast watching programmes broadcast just days before.
“We make the show in two days,” explained Alexander. “We start shooting on the Friday and we film through the week but we actually spend most of the first four days assessing the material.
“As Stephen said, most of it hits the floor – you get to see the gold – and the craft happens over the last couple of days before it goes out on the Friday. It’s made mainly on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday all the way through the night. We have a viewing with Channel 4 on Thursday afternoon, we make a few tweaks and then it’s locked and Caroline [Aherne] voices it.”
Why commit to such a crazy production schedule? It comes down to the decision that Studio Lambert – who make the programme – took when they first hit upon the concept of Gogglebox to remain “topical.”
“It had to be the week’s television,” said Alexander. “We weren’t going to do this show on the month’s television or the year’s television – it had to be the week so it’s quite extraordinary that we can bring something to a Friday night that actually sometimes went out the night before.”
Although that isn’t the only obstacle faced by the show’s production team. They have to negotiate 14 households with full time jobs who, according to Alexander, “often have rows with their husbands or their wives, have children who drive them mad, have financial worries – have all the things we have.
“They’re just normal people, most of them, and often they come home from a day’s work and we’re there with our film crew saying, ‘Hey, eight hours of filming. Be brilliant.’
It’s “paramount” that the cast are looked after. “There’s full respect, but at the same time, we’ve got to deliver, so I think there’s guidelines to set out how we are with the families. There’s a lot of looking after because sometimes they’re not in a great place.
“I hope we do a good job because we’ve got most, if not all, of the cast that I wanted on the programme from series one. We’re now on series six and three years on, the majority of those are still with us. The only people who have gone are people we’ve decided haven’t worked out for one reason or another.”
As for the finished product that viewers see, Alexander has three strict rules: “We don’t take the piss out of the contributors – you’re not mean because they’re normal people. Celebrities – you can have a go, they’ve put themselves out there. Politicians – it’s a f**king free-for-all.”
Gogglebox is on Friday at 9pm on Channel 4