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BBC and Television Genres in Jeopardy

Jeremy Tunstall

This book considers British television from the point of view of executive producers: the people who employ the workforce and are in charge of making all television series. The focus of the book is twenty-one separate genres, at least seven of which are in significant decline – namely current affairs, education, natural history, science, arts, children’s and religion. Some other public service genres – such as documentary, history and travel – are in good health. The most commercially successful genres include formatted factual entertainment series, such as cooking, homes, quiz/game, reality and sport.
The author completed 150 interviews not only with executive producers but with BBC and ITV channel controllers and top genre commissioners. Playing a supporting role are another 200 interviews, which were the basis of the author’s 1993 book, Television Producers. Since 1990, and especially since 2008, British television production has faced financial challenges. Meanwhile, BSkyB, Virgin Media and Channel Five are American controlled, and most of the larger London ‘independent’ production companies are now American or Euro-American owned and operated. Public service broadcasting in general, and BBC television in particular, are threatened with probable further decline. This book offers new insights into the state of British television through the eyes of those working on the inside.
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Chapter 10: Factual Entertainment Formats Prosper: Cooking, Homes, Quiz/Game, Reality

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CHAPTER 10

Factual Entertainment Formats Prosper: Cooking, Homes, Quiz/Game, Reality

The Cooking, Home/Housing, Quiz/Game, and Reality TV genres depend upon a fixed format, which can potentially be repeated hundreds of times. Formatted productions traditionally are unscripted and rely on ‘ordinary people’ to talk and perform spontaneously for little or no money. The formatted show aims to be cheap-per-audience; if successful, the format can be sold into export markets to generate extra finance and profits. The years around 2008 were crucial for formats. Independent producers, now with legally approved control over foreign rights, reacted to the TV financial crisis by focusing ever more strongly on trying to generate fresh cash from formats old and new.

Formatted Factual or Factual Entertainment are labels attached to about one third of all programming hours on each of the five main UK channels each weekday. The five big channels – BBC1, BBC2, ITV1, C4 and C5 – each devote, every weekday about four hours between 8.30am and 8.30pm to this programming. The key product-mix of the TV format is a combination of unscripted talk-and-activity within a fixed set of rules. These shows involve timing (‘you have thirty seconds’ or thirty minutes) and strict rules, presided over by hosts or presenters. These shows focus on human appeal – the contestants are determined to win the (sometimes large) prize, to win the contest, or at least to get through to the next round. The unscripted participants and competitors are placed in jeopardy, the fear...

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