I’m couldn’t really tell you why the subhead of this week’s Other Side by Felipa Jodelka in the Guardian Guide annoyed me so much. Well I can. It’s the supposed phenomenom of Googlebox.
“Within two years Gogglebox has become on those shows that everyone loves without exception.“*
As HTW Central noted on Twitter, it’d have 12 million viewers (as Bake Off gets for its final) if that were the case.
If everyone loved Gogglebox it would have 12 million viewers. It doesn't. https://t.co/3XruPVi60z
— HTW Central (@htwcentral) September 5, 2015
In fact, I believe that 4m is closer to the mark – undoubtedly excellent ratings for Channel 4.
Let me be very clear up front. I’ve never seen Gogglebox, and I have no intention of ever doing so.
I’ve no doubt that the programme is very well made, with smart casting, and is cleverly put together to engage a wide variety of viewers. But that’s not enough to make the programme appeal a single iota to me.
For the uninitiated Wikipedia describes the show as featuring, “Recurring couples, families and friends from around England sitting in their living rooms watching weekly British television shows.”
Essentially, the producers have “cast” people to appear on the show. I’m not sure whether anyone truly thinks that this is giving us anything insightful. Many business use small focus groups to discuss new products or ideas. But you don’t “cast” a focus group to entertain you. You put a group together to give you insight and inform your decisions.
So if I want to hear discussion about the prevailing medium of our time, then I need to know that I’m hearing something intelligent with people who know the medium, understand some of its history, and can put things into context. I want some insight, from someone who can tell me something I don’t know. I don’t need conversation that I could otherwise get on the top deck of a bus, or at the proverbial pub with a random stranger. This is also why I need named, specialist critics for films, books, music, radio, theatre and, of course, television. It’s why you know that if a film poster is using very obscure people or publications to sell their film, I’m already suspicious.
I particularly don’t need people “cast” for a television series to make us have some kind of visceral reaction towards them. Make no mistake, casting is a critical part of any “reality” show.
And then there’s the importance of the edit. Like most reality television, the hours of footage have to be carefully corralled together in an edit suite somewhere, where storylines are constructed and some kind of sense is supposedly made of raw footage. (Seriously: try watching UnREAL for an albeit fictional and ramped up to 11 view of a reality show.)
And if this all sounds snobbish, then it’s really not meant to. I enjoy television a lot, and I enjoy enlightening discussion about television a good deal too. For example, there was an excellent interview with Jed Mercurio on Radio 4’s Front Row the other night. Primarily it was about his version of Lady Chatterly’s Lover airing this weekend on BBC1, but he had some very interesting things to say about how US premium cable channels operate.
Look: I was someone who never missed Harry Hill’s TV Burp. But I very much knew what I was getting – a skilled comedian who understands how the TV industry works, putting a satirical spin on things.
Gogglebox, on the other hand, features well remunerated members of the public – carefully cast – who surely have to deliver the goods if they want to stay with the programme. I know I won’t like it. Similarly, I don’t need to watch The Only Way is Essex, or essentially anything on ITVBe, to know that they won’t be up my street.
Worryingly, Channel 4 looks like it’s getting overly reliant on the programme. When the Guardian piece mentioned six series in two years, I was quite shocked. I know that the show has shifted into peak, now dominating the channel’s Friday night schedule. But it’s true that around 26 episodes a year are now being churned out (over three years in fact). I’d guess that the programme is relatively cheap to produce, and my fear is that Channel 4 is getting overly addicted on it – if not to the extent that they did previously with Big Brother – then certainly at the expense of other light entertainment programmes. (I’ve written previously about how bad an idea it is to be bringing back TFI Friday. That too shows a lack of imagination on the part of schedulers.)
* At time of writing, I couldn’t find an online link to the article on The Guardian’s website.