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.
And that’s not to mention the endless slew of small, speechless children in tears, dog acts and double acts with one partner is better than the other – whom Simon will invariably offer a ‘choice’ having stopped the act midway through.
I suspect that there is a fair amount of ‘freak show disconnect’ amongst the British public, and that they are getting less and less interested. Has Britain’s Got Talent got enough tricks up its collective sleeve to engage conversation and journalists or has it gone the way of Big Brother and lost interest to formula and over-scripting?
The fact that they use the same old script, from tired critique to equally tired enthusiasm, can pall. All the people who ‘are here to win’, are or want to put their hometown ‘on the map’ need, perhaps, to find a talent for original sentiments. And the judges too: how many times have you heard them say ‘I wasn’t expecting that’, ‘you’ve got three yeses’ or ‘that was my favourite by far’? Frankly, if the judges got goose bumps every time they claimed to, they’d probably develop a serious skin complaint.
Barnum knew that if you put extraordinary freaks together you would have a show. He also knew that you had to have something more than just shock value, cheap laughs and a relentlessly repetitious ‘live the dream’ style script. Talent runs deeper than that, and, though the public like formula, a Saturday night TV show has to have some substance and show some willingness to move forward if it is to survive.
There’s an enormous amount of talent out there – just look at the kid doing a Lady Gaga cover on the net who garnered 8.5 million YouTube hits in three days. He’s doing well because he’s writing his own script, not submitting to the tired formulas of others.
So is the reality bubble punctured? Talent shows have come and gone, but this one has to survive, if only to provide much needed advertising revenue. All shows dip into decline. Has this format got the power to survive longer than most?
One thing’s for certain – if it fails, then we are likely to see significant cracks forming in the Cowell Empire. I will be looking for a demonstration of truly potent PR skills in the coming weeks. Britain’s Got Talent needs to create serious engagement before the audience begin to opt out in far bigger numbers.