Posts Tagged ‘britain’s got talent’

The Voice v BGT: another limp response from the Beeb

The eventual defeat of The Voice by the Cowell war machine- compounded by that too perfect final story about the crew watching BGT in the gallery- has far more to do with the BBC’s mentality than it does with the show. Once again, the beeb has shown itself to be something of a shrinking violet, and it won’t be able to enter the hardball arena of true showmanship until it learns to man up.

The initial success of The Voice was driven by the freshness of the concept- both in its actual content and in the fact that it was outside of Cowell’s influence. There was everything to play for, and the BBC had a golden opportunity to strike a blow for originality just within its grasp. Arguably, audiences were tired of Cowell’s monopoly- when they weren’t busy sniggering at him in the wake of the Tom Bower revelations.

Yet, as TS Eliot once wrote, ‘between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow’. Or, as they say in the less Oxbridge-educated echelons of TV land, ‘eat shit or get out of the kitchen’. The BBC dithered, and refused to commit to all-out war. Yet all-out war was brought to it, and by the time Cowell got into his stride, there wasn’t a single entity involved with The Voice, from eerie hip-hop aristocrat to the back-room concept makers in the boardroom, who got away without a savaging. Never underestimate the ruthless commitment to publicity that Simon Cowell both expects and delivers.

The BBC and other broadcasters are increasingly getting the content, but we’ve yet to find a channel with the stomach for publicity and showmanship that ITV have developed over the past decade. If it goes on at this rate, we’ll have Amanda Holden’s face plastered over every flat surface in the land. For ever and ever. If there was ever an argument for healthy competition, I think that’s it.

The Voice vs BGT: Cowell’s Monopoly on Showmanship

However much we hate him, anyone even vaguely interested in the saccharine world of Saturday Night Telly needs to say a quick prayer at the altar of Simon Cowell. Whatever side you came down on, the whole BGT/The Voice battle proved that, as an individual and a brand, he drives the whole weekend entertainment market more or less single handedly.

With both sides claiming victory and analysts still picking over the remains, the ratings battle between BGT and The Voice was a close call. While BGT won the peak ratings prize with 11.5m viewers, The Voice managed to sustain figures during its 20 minute overlap with BGT, showing that Cowell’s property didn’t entice many viewers away.

However, the publicity battle was clearly dominated by one man alone.  You can’t manufacture, train or interview for a showbiz force like Cowell. For all his slick, cultivated grouchiness, he is approachable. Like the great capitalist showmen before him- PR Barnum and Gordon Selfridge to name two- he befriends journalists and makes himself available naturally, without looking desperate, and without needing to concede too many favours.

As a consequence, when he went in guns blazing to the pre-show PR wrangling, the results were staggering. From a few artfully handled nubs about his sense of humour failure on Jonathan Ross (which served the purpose of placing Cowell firmly on his pedestal as well as re-establishing the funnyman profile of David Walliams), to his threats to ‘poach’ Jessie J, he brought the firepower, and the papers lapped it up. I don’t think I’d realised until now how much The X Factor suffered from his absence.

The Voice is a great show, and a much quoted tweet of mine describing it as ‘too complicated’ was overly hasty- this is a real grower. However, I hope they learn a sharp lesson from this- the beast of compliance creates caution, which numbs the sense of promotion. As Dan Wootton tweeted on Friday, the lengths the BBC went to to play down the importance of ratings were fascinating. With spend on the programme reaching 22million, the pretence was farcical- evidence only of the beeb’s lack of publicity balls.

With outlets like the BBC dominated by an obscurantist, executive driven culture, where is the next Cowell? Whether the thought of another fills you with dread or fervour, you can’t deny that a publicity punch-up between the two is just the sugar rush the Saturday night chatter has been waiting for.

Publicity Stunt? What Publicity Stunt?

The great Ronan Parke caper seemed to just fizzle out yesterday. Pre- the Britain’s Got Talent final, it seemed the final hype was upstaged by a rogue blogger. The disgruntled record exec-come-whistleblower touched a raw nerve with his well-written conspiracy theory suggesting that Britain’s wannabe Beiber had actually been ruthlessly groomed by the Dark Lord, Cowell.

This creative provoked the TV mob to launch a complaint to the Kensington and Chelsea rozzers. The Saturday final audience watched a wounded Cowell’s emotional appeal for the nation’s trust. Heaven forbid that an entertainment mogul would consider manipulating the career of a starlet!

I thought this plea for trust was like Stevie Wonder asking a car hire company to allow him to take a family saloon.

To ensure the quality of any reality show is difficult. When all is said and done, Britain just isn’t brimming with world class talent waiting to be discovered. Reality show formats prove that, no matter how much hype and primetime TV exposure, very few global superstars are likely to be unearthed. This is a primetime format, hooking a nation and desperate advertisers. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ego Has Landed

Britain’s Got Talent has rolled around again and again the nation is gripped. Out with the old and in with the new. It’s been this way for a while. Remember, it’s not five minutes since the X Factor was all anyone could talk about, but that’s seeped away into the mists of time as BGT conquers the attention spans of the nation.

Like a Chinese meal, it is all you can taste and think about, but when it’s finished it’s forgotten and all you want is the next fix of foodstuff. There’s news, there’s excitement, there’s hyperbole scattered all over the place like MSG – and then it’s gone.

Of course, we are at the point that everyone is most interested in – the freak parade. Never mind the machinations behind the scenes or the commercial value of the brand; this is what the people most care about; the narrative, the crazies.

Given that it’s all about BGT right now, will we ever know the truth of what caused Cheryl Cole’s American X Factor exit and non-admittance to the UK judging panel? I doubt it, as the people have spoken and what they want is the tears, the heartache, the visceral stories, whether good or bad. What use is a nation’s sweetheart without some pain? We’ve used up the divorce tears – here’s the next weepie Cole adventure. Read the rest of this entry »

The Cowell Question

The Observer is asking the big question – is Svengali in chief Simon Cowell essential to the X Factor? Two journalists debate the pros and cons, intersecting the public conversation surrounding Cowell’s migration to America. But neither address Cowell’s principal ingredient, his enormous power to influence the hype and guide the off-screen narrative.

After watching Britain’s Got Talent – the Dark Lord’s other bastard child – on Saturday, it was obvious from the slow media pick up that something was missing. Taking its first wobbly steps without Daddy, I wondered if it could ever be as successful. Could the new panel of judges cast the same spell and begin to bewitch the nation? Could its freaks and fame-hungry dreamers deliver the same connection to the media, on and offline?

Michael Mcintyre, jester-in-chief to the great unwashed, probably has the stuff; the Hoff is in another time zone; and funky, tender Auntie Amanda Holden looks lost as she tries to take the lead. Without Cowell, it all seemed a little trite; he’d left them with the formula, but the gold dust was missing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good, the Mad and the Twittery

This Sunday is the season finale of series four of Mad Men, and the web is alive with the sound of tributes and ‘best of the series’ video clips, including spoilers if you’ve not seen the entire run yet.

Unless you’re in the UK, that is, in which case you’ll be watching episode seven of 13 and the spoilers could really hurt your enjoyment of this remarkable series. The start of the series may have been brought forward in the UK, but we’re still too far behind. In today’s social media world, the narrative is just not as powerful when the story is out of sync in different parts of the world with a (fairly) common language and culture – it is diluted by spoilers and web-chatter. Read the rest of this entry »

Britain’s Got Cliché

It strikes me that all is not well in Britain’s Got Talent, that something is falling apart. This year, the show opened on 10.6 million viewers (a 44% share). By May it was on a 43%. After four weeks in, it is currently running down 5% on last year, which opened with 11 million viewers. The year before it opened on 10 million viewers (a 42% share). There is a sense that it may have peaked in the wake of Susan Boyle – bear in mind that the 2008 season final was watched by 14 million whilst in 2009 16 million tuned in for the live show and an astonishing 17.3 million watched the final results show.

It doesn’t help that this latest series has seen all the same clichés spilling out onto our screens once again. Too many of the same old freaks are attempting to ‘live the dream’. There’s Janey Cutler, who is clearly is in line to be the next attempted SuBo; there’s a comeback kid in the shape of the drummer who was awful last time but in the running again because everybody loves an underdog; there’s the same old ‘outrageous’ acts that Simon can make a pretence of being turned on by.
Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Brown and the Jinxed Career

Gordon Brown is jinxed. At the Number 10 reception to mark the second anniversary of the Prime Minister’s Talent and Enterprise Taskforce, Perri Luc Kiely, the frizzy haired 13 year old dancer with Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity, took a tumble, hurt himself, burst into tears and is now taking top billing in the press coverage.

There seems to be no way Brown can escape his political doom if there is to be more coverage of a stunt going wrong than of the actual meaning of the stunt. Brown is reduced by the Press Association release to stating that Kiely is “a wonderful guy” whilst Diversity’s choreographer Ashley Banjo is quoted as saying: “Our lives completely changed because people backed us and believed in us.”

I’m sure Gordon’s been wishing he could say as much for years now…

Michael Jackson’s Funeral: The Greatest Show on Earth?

And so Michael Jackson is to be put to rest – or his physical form is at least. There is no doubt that his name, his brand and his image will live on for as long as it makes money. Death is merely a chapter break in the life of Michael Jackson – it’s not a full stop.

Floral for Michael Jackson tributes in LA

Floral tributes for Michael Jackson in LA

The allegations of paedophilia that haunted Jackson’s final years have all but disappeared and now is the time for a show to close that chapter of Jackson’s life – a show to end all shows and to begin new ones. The funeral seems to be gearing up to be a show for people to demonstrate love and adoration for Jackson – but it also seems to be more about the people commemorating Jackson than about Jackson himself. Shaheen Jafargholi, who sang a Jackson song on Britain’s Got Talent, will be there, singing alongside Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey and more.

Like Princess Diana before, the crowds are gathering to mutually support each other at the Staples Centre and mutually assure that they forget the rough patches in Jackson’s life. But I’m more interested in the people who aren’t going to be there – David Blaine is in this country, Lisa Marie Presley is abroad. How will they be mourning?

The media gearing up for Jackson's funeral

The media gearing up for Jackson's funeral

There’s another funeral Jackson’s looks set to resemble – that of Phineas Taylor Barnum. It’s curious, given the freakish nature of much of Jackson’s life in the limelight, that his funeral should resemble that of the man who travelled the world with a freak show. But Barnum was canny enough to know that he was dying and well loved enough to get a copy of his own obituary a day or two before he died. It’s hard to imagine Jackson even countenancing the idea that he might die.

Here’s a report on the funeral of Barnum, written a little after the event over 100 years ago.

“The morning was cold, gray, and dismal. Nature’s heart, with the spring joy put back and deadened, symboled the melancholy that had fallen upon Bridgeport. No town was ever more transformed than was this city by one earthly event. On the public and private buildings were hung the habiliments of woe; flags were at half mast, and, in the store windows were to be seen innumerable portraits and likenesses of the dead citizen, surrounded by dark drapery, or embedded in flowers.

“Nor was this all. The people on the street and in the windows of their houses seemed to be thinking of but one thing–their common loss. The pedestrian walked slower; the voices of talkers, even among the rougher classes, were more subdued, and in their looks was imprinted the unmistakable signal of no common or ordinary bereavement.

“The large church was not only filled, with its lecture-room, a considerable time before the hour set for the services; but thousands of people crowded the sidewalks near-by for hours, knowing they could only see the arrival and departure of the funeral cortege. The private services at the house, “Marina,” near the Seaside Park, which preceded the public services in the church, were simple and were only witnessed and participated in by the relatives and immediate friends.”

More preparations for Jackson's funeral

More preparations for Jackson's funeral

It will be interesting to see how long the current state of post-Jackson euphoria-in-loss lasts – a lot of smoke went up over the allegations that marred his final years. Will any of it be blown away in the coming months? One thing is certain; if a brand is powerful enough and has enough money behind it, anything unsavoury can be made to disappear, as the fixers at MGM proved in the 1930s.

I’ll close with another quote from the report on Barnum’s death:

“When, in 1889, the veteran brought over his shipload of giants and dwarfs, chariots and waxworks, spangles and circus-riders, to entertain the people of London, one wanted a Carlyle to come forward with a discourse upon ‘the Hero as Showman.’ It was the ne plus ultra of publicity. There was a three-fold show–the things in the stalls and cages, the showman, and the world itself. And of the three perhaps Barnum himself was the most interesting. The chariot races and the monstrosities we can get elsewhere, but the octogenarian showman was unique. His name is a proverb already, and a proverb it will continue.”

Jackson was, without doubt, a huge brand at the heart of a huge, freakish circus and was the most interesting thing in it – as the recent outpourings prove. But will Jackson become a proverb – or just a bogeyman? Only time will tell.

Only time will tell for this message

Boyle-ing Point: The Caustic Nature of Fame

There’s not that much of a gap between Phineas Taylor Barnum, grandmaster of the freak show, and Simon Cowell. Both Barnum and Cowell are exemplars of transmuting showbiz into mega-biz gold. The difference is that we look back now, 150 years later, and judge the freakshows that made Barnum’s name as exploitative and degrading. I wonder how we will judge Britain’s Got Talent in 30 years time?

There is no doubt that Barnum would have loved Britain’s Got Talent – a cost-effective format that gathers a collection of strange and strangely determined people into its fold and pushes their saleability, if they have any, to the hilt. It’s nothing new – Russell Birdwell conducted star searches for Selznick International back in the 1930s, the Harry Potter films made a public search for their star. The only new thing in the mix is the ability to spread word on the show’s latest runaway idol to the world in seconds flat via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere.

Cowell is a remarkable man, who puts the business into show with enormous skill. With Britain’s Got Talent, he has recognised, as Barnum did, that there is a vast well of public desire to ogle. They invest briefly in the people that X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent draw out of the woodwork, admire them and root for them for a time when the sing or perform well – within a certain set of strictures – and then watch as they sink slowly and unwillingly back into oblivion.

There is a huge appetite for the fairytale ending on TV shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, but beyond the fairytale endings, real life isn’t that simple. The audience is always going to want to know what happens next. The pressure of expectation, especially on a global scale, is enough to make anyone crack, let alone a woman with learning difficulties who has been plucked from obscurity and plunged into the vast acid bath of fame. Susan Boyle may be an ugly duckling who has become a swan, but what happens when the public find the next ugly duckling to swoon over? What it amounts to, from either end of the process, is too much pressure on the shoulders of Susan Boyle.

Susan Boyle is very unlikely to be anything but a one hit wonder. I’ll stick my neck out and say that it may well be a mega-hit on the back of all the euphoria because yes, she has a very good voice. Britain’s Got Talent has lifted her from obscurity, but the trouble is it also seems to expect her to deal with the pressures of fame on a scale that nobody could have predicted. The show side-steps the well-worn cliché of the long pub tours and constant struggle that has marked the progress to fame in the past – a process which was still no guarantee of steeling the acts it produced for the sudden onrush of the corrosive processes of mega-fame. Despite the quality of Boyle’s voice and the willingness of the public to love her at the moment, I still can’t see this as a lasting love affair.

I’m not attacking Susan Boyle when I say that I don’t think that people will pay to see her perform in six months time. I just don’t think she’s got the wherewithal to withstand the pressures of fame and I don’t believe the public will stick with her, because too many of them are too in love with the moment of her transformation to consider or care what happens beyond the happy ever after moment of that one big hit, other than to watch her implode. She is not a role model because there is no room for role models in the world of ‘pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’ celebrity.

What I am attacking is the process, the public expectation, the weight being placed on Boyle’s shoulders. As I told the Times, “’You can’t pluck somebody with those issues and fix them overnight. This has been a fantastic soap opera for the fame-makers, Syco [Simon Cowell’s record label] and Talkback TV. I’m not suggesting that they are cynical and deliberately looking to exploit, but they have got their eye on the buck. They’ve done very well out of Paul Potts and they want to see what they can make out of this. We are beginning to see more and more people who are casualties of the process. Jade Goody was over. She was resurrected by her illness.’”

If Boyle overcomes the caustic nature of fame and makes a real go of it – wonderful! I’ll gladly be proved wrong. But I honestly believe that she will have one huge hit and then slowly disappear, most likely because the public will have found another fairytale to follow. If that happens, I just hope the realization that it’s all gone away doesn’t destroy an already palpably fragile woman. She doesn’t deserve that.