A big Saturday night BBC singing competition came to an end this weekend.
Jermaine Jackson and Nick Jonas were there, Rita Ora performed and the live final saw the winners take home £50,000.
And yet we bet you’d struggle to name who won the BBC’s talent contest Pitch Battle. Even if we offered you £50,000, you’d probably still be unable to squeeze a name out.
The new shiny-floor BBC show had struggled from the start, with very little hype and lacklustre ratings. Presenter Mel Giedroyc certainly deserved far more than her underwhelming BBC pay packet for making it through Pitch Battle alone.
Although currently the show’s future is unclear, here are six reasons why the new format simply didn’t work:
(Oh, and the winners of the show were the Leeds Contemporary Singers, FYI)
TV formats such as this live or die by their judging line-up (two words: Nick and Grimshaw. Exactly.) and the Pitch Battle panel didn’t exactly capture people’s imaginations. The only two mainstays were Gareth Malone and Kelis, with the third seat acting as a hot desk for guest judges.
It’s a tactic that seems to be increasingly used on shows such as this. Let It Shine followed a similar format, and instead of adding excitement or variety with Lulu, Ashley Roberts and Amber Riley rotating on the panel, instead it gave a whiff of uncertainty.
It was exactly the same on Pitch Battle. It’s as though the producers didn’t have enough faith in a single name, so instead attempted to tempt in a diverse viewership by switching from Joe Jonas to Chaka Khan to Bebe Rexha to Seal. And it just didn’t work.
Gareth wasn’t dreadful at this judging malarkey. He had good feedback for the choirs, occasionally bordered on animated (“I feel like Bruno Tonioli – I want to stand up!”) and head-bobbed like the best of them. Kelis raised the odd smile, but was pretty bland and most of the time might as well have not been there. Overall, it didn’t feel like there was cohesion or a mix of personalities on the panel – there was no ‘funny one’ or ‘nasty one’ – and overall it was just a bit ‘meh’.
Ironically, the only person who seemed thoroughly thrilled and who brought plenty of energy to the panel was Pitch Perfect musical director Deke Sharon, and he only took centre stage in the final. Inexplicably before that, he was relegated to giving feedback from the wings. It was a shame, as he was the only one who seemed to have an ounce of excitement about the show.
There was a time when this sort of stuff was popular. High School Musical had tweens learning the lyrics and moves to We’re All in This Together in 2006, Glee burst onto our TVs and sent Don’t Stop Believin’ to the top of the charts in 2009 while Pitch Perfect brought a capella to the masses in the 2012 movie.
Was it that a senior commissioner at the Beeb only recently saw Pitch Perfect and thought it was ‘hip’, ‘trendy’ and what ‘the yoof’ were into? Well, they were… more than five years ago. The excitement surrounding this genre has undoubtedly waned; it feels strange that they unleashed a show like Pitch Battle on an unsuspecting public in 2017.
It was yet another singing competition
Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor used to have a ratings battle. Each week, one of the talent contests would nudge the other in the challenge for Saturday night supremacy.
And now…well…not so much. Last year’s X Factor final drew the show’s lowest ever ratings for a series finale with only seven million viewers tuning in. And while the winners often became huge stars (Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, Little Mix), the past few champions haven’t. Matt Terry, anyone?
Fellow TV singing talent show The Voice UK always struggled to either win over viewers or find a genuine star on the BBC, and it hasn’t done much better since switching to ITV.
In short, people have become fatigued with singing competitions. From the heady days of Pop Idol to Fame Academy, commissioners need to face facts: nowadays viewers just aren’t as invested in these formats.
Being yet another singing competition, Pitch Battle was fighting an uphill struggle from the outset.
How the winners were chosen
Although not quite like something out of Black Mirror, this wasn’t far off. After the choirs had performed in the so-called Riff-Off and Showstopper (along with signing up Mel as host, they were really egging on the Bake Off connotations with this show), two final choirs went head-to-head for the Final Battle.
This saw them both duet on a famous track from the guest judge, who would then rather ominously stand up, sing a bit of their own song and then just walk towards the choir that they wanted to progress to the final. Admittedly it was refreshing to have a different format to that tried and tested results-in-the-envelope way of doing things, but it still felt very odd having to watch the losers simultaneously warble and sob into their microphones while they were in the throes of being chucked off the show.
So this isn’t exactly the programme’s fault. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that TV ratings always take a hit in summer, but over the past six weeks we’ve experienced a lot of warm weather. In fact, according to the Met Office, England had the second equal-warmest June on record – and July has hardly been a washout.
It’s hard to say with certainty whether it was the sunny climate or the format / concept of the show itself that meant the show only attracted two million viewers (and sometimes less) each week. However, it’s undeniable that perfect BBQ and pints-in-a-pub-garden weather simply can’t compete with the prospect of staying in for this.
And while the sentence “Sorry, I have to be back tonight in time for Love Island” has been parroted up and down the country these past few weeks, we can’t say in all honesty say we’ve ever overheard anyone utter the words: “Sorry, must dash – Pitch Battle’s starting shortly!” Possibly also because…
It (mostly) wasn’t live
Some of the best moments of reality TV are pre-recorded. The Great British Bake Off and The Apprentice have huge dollops of jeopardy, and they were recorded months ago, while The X Factor and The Voice UK auditions are also filmed far in advance and yet are arguably the best stages of both shows.
Where Pitch Battle – which was pre-recorded for five of its six episodes – fell down is that there were no auditions or heats to whizz through. Instead, right from episode one, it felt like we were joining the show at the semi-final stage – a stage where normally viewers would be at the heart of the decisions being made live on screen. And yet everything was already determined.
At the point we met the six choirs in each episode, they’d already made it through to an advanced stage of the competition. But with just one live episode, it felt like practically all of the audience participation had been erased.
Ironically, the final episode was actually rather good. It was live, viewers chose the winner and somehow they managed to get Chaka Khan, Seal, Nick Jonas (the more famous of the Jonases), Will Young, Bebe Rexha and Jermaine Jackson in the same room at the same time, performing alongside some fantastic choirs.
It’s just that, sadly, hardly anyone actually saw it.