The Radio Times logo

How to create a hit television show

"People will no longer watch any show unless it has a catchy name, like The Man With the 10-Stone Testicles," says Richard Osman logo
Published: Saturday, 19th July 2014 at 7:00 am

I have spent my entire career inventing TV shows. Some have been good, some have been mediocre, and others so eye-wateringly awful that they're still being investigated by the European Court of Human Rights.


I'm often asked for advice by others on how to create TV shows. Is there a simple formula, or are TV shows the result of painstakingly hard work by hand-picked teams of enormously talented people?

Of course the answer is a) there is a simple formula.

Therefore, I thought I would share my Three-Point Guide to Creating a Soaraway, Smash-Hit, Million-Dollar TV Idea. All you have to do is follow three steps and I guarantee you will be a billionaire by this time next year. Though Radio Times and my children point out that this guarantee is entirely imaginary.

1. Come up with the idea

Your idea should essentially be a mix between two other hit TV shows. That’s how all shows are invented. Look carefully and you can spot the join, like those cars that get welded together and end up on Watchdog.

Some examples: Britain’s Got Talent is a mix between Opportunity Knocks and The X Factor; Strictly Come Dancing is a mix of Come Dancing and Pro-Celebrity Golf, while Gogglebox is a mix between Sky Soccer Saturday and Come Dine with Me. Pointless is, of course, a cross between Family Fortunes and another episodes of Family Fortunes.

Here are some starting points: Great British Bake Off meets The Only Way is Essex, where Mary Berry opens a nightclub called Hollywood's. Amy Childs sets out to find a cure for soggy bottoms? Or Splash! meets Newsnight. Politicians. A high-diving board. This show pretty much writes itself. How about Take Me Out meets Countryfile? I might leave this one up to you.

More like this

2. Choose your presenters

At any given time only around ten people are allowed to present new TV shows. Occasionally, they let people such as me and Alexander Armstrong, or Sandi Toksvig, present things, but I wouldn’t take that risk. The full list of potential presenters at this exact second is:

BBC1 Clare Balding, Richard Hammond, Graham Norton or John Bishop.

BBC2 Mary Beard, Dan Snow or Mel and/or Sue.

ITV Ant & Dec, Paddy McGuinness, Holly Willoughby, or Stephen Mulhern.

C4 Alan Carr, Davina or the posh Gogglebox couple.

3. Construct a killer title

So you have your idea, a mix of Celebrity Juice and Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys. Professor Mary Beard has agreed to host. So what’s it called? This is the most important step of all. People will no longer watch any show unless it has a catchy name, like The Man With the 10-Stone Testicles.

Failing that, it must mention the presenter’s name, or have “Extreme” or “The Great British” in the title. Some suggestions include: John Bishop’s Extreme Cupcakes or Alan Carr’s 10-Stone Testicles.

So, next time you’re watching MasterChef just start thinking what it would be like if they mixed it with Dancing On Ice. Then ask yourself if that’s the sort of thing Stephen Mulhern might like to present.

Then imagine seeing the title, Stephen Mulhern’s Million Pound Extreme Ice Banquet, in the listings pages of Radio Times and your work is done.


Richard Osman co-hosts Pointless, Monday to Friday at 5:15pm on BBC1


Sponsored content