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Why tired TV formats should be scrapped for more silliness on screen

This weekend's TV schedule features hypnotism and fluffy animal costumes. David Butcher hails a new slew of silly shows...

Published: Saturday, 14th March 2015 at 6:30 am

Good news. Two promisingly mad entertainment shows start this week. In one, members of the public complete daft tasks while hypnotised (You’re Back in the Room, Saturday, 8:20pm, ITV, seen below). In the other, contestants play slapstick games in a forest while dressed in big fluffy animal costumes they can’t see out of (Wild Things, Sunday, 7pm, Sky1).


I mean, what’s not to like? Just typing out those one-line descriptions made me smile more than entire episodes of last year’s re-booted Celebrity Squares. I grant you they sound thoroughly childish and ridiculous. But ridiculous ideas aren’t bad ideas.

Ridiculous ideas are great! We need more of them!

For years we’ve had the same fleet of big shows, the same entertainment hulks sailing through our living
rooms. The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent, I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, Big Brother...Children born when this lot were first broadcast are now at secondary school. We need new blood.

The trouble is, it’s fiendishly hard to find new entertainment ideas. (If you don’t believe me, you try thinking of one.) And when you’ve found a promising format, there’s no guarantee it’ll work by the time it gets on screen – so much can go wrong (remember Reflex, an entire game show in slow motion?). So the temptation is to play safe and resurrect a hit from years gone by.

On that basis, whoever pitched the concept of Harry Hill reviving Stars in Their Eyes (above) must have thought they were home and dry. It looked like a match made in heaven. Except... it ended in ratings hell. Similarly, when ITV paid a reported £1 million last year for a talent-show format where viewers could vote for or against singers in real time, as they sang, it sounded like a no-brainer. Sadly, it was a no-goer: the channel axed Rising Star pre-launch after it flopped in America. Sometimes a me-too version of previous hits won’t do the job.

With the death of Rising Star, church bells should have been rung across the kingdom. Right there we could draw a line in the sand: no more wishful-thinking talent shows. No more “Call now if you want to vote for...” and “You made that song your own” shows.

What we need instead, TV people, is new, brave, bold, stupid ideas. By definition more of these risky shows will flop, but that’s no bad thing. It’s better than safe photocopies of old favourites, which can flop anyway. And at least I can’t remember the last hypnosis-based game show, or another show where a confused giant mole gets hit on the head with a baseball bat by an angry giant duck. It’s possible, of course, that both of this week’s newcomers will end up like BBC1’s 2011 Don’t Scare the Hare – as amusing footnotes in TV history.


But I hope not. After all, the best entertainment ideas sounded iffy when you first heard them. A talent search where the judges can’t see the singers? Actors and athletes trying to ballroom dance? Competitive cake baking in a tent? Ridiculous. 


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