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TV formats: longevity and obsolescence


Birmingham City University’s Dr Vanessa Jackson discusses the secrets of television success, as ‘This Morning’ turns 30 and ‘Big Brother’ approaches its end.

ITV’s 'This Morning’ celebrates its 30th anniversary today (3 October) whilst ‘Big Brother’ languishes in its death throes. What does this tell us about the secrets of TV success?

Both shows have well-worked formats that seem to have stood the test of time and both have been able to reinvent themselves in the past. However, ‘Big Brother’ has been unable to stem the downward slide of viewers, from a peak of almost 6 million for Channel 4’s 2002 season, to a paltry 1.2 million for Channel 5 in 2017. For a primetime show, such low figures are unsustainable. The year-on-year loss of viewers is what has led to the demise of ‘Big Brother’.

Ironically ‘This Morning’ has similar viewing figures of around 1.2 million, but this is a measure of success for the mid-morning magazine show, with its stable, older demographic, and cheaper production costs.

The loss of viewers is a symptom, rather than the cause of the decline of ‘Big Brother’, which I would suggest is integral to the actual proposition. In its heyday, in the early noughties, ‘Big Brother’ was hailed as a social experiment, the like of which had never been seen before. The show was essential viewing and much discussed the following day at school or work; it had, in the parlance of the time, the much valued ‘water cooler’ moment. 18 years later the experiment feels rather stale, and despite the careful casting of intriguing characters, we’ve seen it all before and essentially, we now choose not to spend time in their company.

With ‘This Morning’ the opposite is true. When it was launched in 1988, it bore similarities to the BBC’s first daytime magazine show: ‘Pebble Mill at One’, produced at Pebble Mill’s studios in Birmingham and decommissioned just two years earlier. It had a mix of relatively short items, of cookery, health, weather, celebrity chats and entertainment. Viewers could dip in and out and learn something into the bargain. It wasn’t trying to be new or different and the key to its success was its presenters, firstly husband and wife team Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan and since 2010, Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. The mix of items on the show and the approach is refreshed periodically, but the warmth of the presenting team, and the natural chemistry between them, is a constant, and consequently we want to spend time in their company.

Image credit - ITV

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