Some ideas to revive the reality TV / talent show formats

Our most popular talent and reality TV shows either suffer from fatal flaws, or need a refresh to keep going.

The Voice promises to be different to the X-Factor, but we’ve already had wall-to-wall Adele covers.  Are we in for theme weeks where judges pick from a depressingly shallow pool of songs? Tsk at Cheryl Cole picking ‘Imagine’ for an X-Factor Beatles theme week.

A young David Bowie auditions for The Voice and gets a strong reaction from the judges

Shelina was a magnificent Masterchef winner, but the latest celebrity version drifted around unloved in the daytime schedules, what’s next for the show?

Meanwhile, the latest series of The Apprentice looks tired and struggles under the weight of its tinkered-with format (they’re not looking for an apprentice at all…), so I think it’s time to go, or have a revamp.

So, TV producers, here are some free ideas for you to steal.

Search for a pop star shows:

I play an imaginary game where I picture all the popstars and musical icons I’ve loved over the years taking part in the X-Factor.  My gripe with the show is that I can’t imagine one of them winning and sadly can see a lot of the people I love being treated as the novelty acts.

The judges would laugh at Thom Yorke and make him come up with some sob story about his eye. Morrissey would be forced into a load of “guyliner” and made to cover camp classics.

And if it’s all about the voice, so many greats would fail.  Can you imagine David Bowie managing that long note in I Will Always Love You, or a young (pre singing lessons) Madonna managing to get through any ballad on a live show without a few bum notes? Debbie Harry would be drowned out by the backing band, criticised for being “pitchy” and attract loads of internet “hatahs” for being too sexy.

But, but,but all of these people are great.  Notice something else they have in common?  They all write (or co-write) their songs.

Stay with me in this imaginary world and see if you can imagine a young David Bowie getting much further than the early rounds of The Voice or the X-Factor.  If he did, I’m sure that he wouldn’t be allowed to sing Space Oddity, they would make him sing something by Ed Sheeran.

So, I propose…

…Search for a Real Star

Remember Fame Academy?  Well, forget the over-scripted Cowell wannabe Headmaster and remember that they let the students play instruments and showed footage of them noodling around on pianos and doing some song writing.  This idea borrows a bit of that.

We are searching for a real musician, someone with writing / producing / performance skills that go beyond being good at karaoke.

Instead of competing judges, there is a team of collaborative mentors who work together to bring out the strengths of the finalists.

Instead of the weekly show just doling out an endless stream of identikit performances, each week the finalists are set tasks to learn a new skill, produce other finalists’ songs, write a new piece of music etc.

The mentors would be real heavyweights with proper careers and diverse backgrounds in the music industry.  At the end, we would discover several stars, with the potential for longevity.

I’ll work on a better name for it…

Yes, I know The Voice claims to be moving in this direction, but I don’t think it’s gone far enough.


The producers might say, if it aint broke don’t fix it, but they were the ones that brought Sean Pertwee in to do the voiceovers, unsettling the delicate balance of the Masterchef eco-system, so I’m going to suggest one little change…

There are two key rounds  1) where the chefs are allowed to cook anything they feel like and 2) (in the Professionals) the Classic cooking test.

If you had the chance of cooking anything for Michel Roux Jr, would you choose cheap and unlovely to look at but apparently delicious Coley, or would you pick Halibut – the king of the seas with the price tag to match?  Well, you might have noticed that Masterchef contestants rarely go for the cheap cuts and (with the exception of a few episodes where they drifted down to Borough Market to sniff cheese) there’s very little focus on sourcing ingredients…this makes me worry about the profitability of the restaurants they’re going to open when they’ve won.

We can do better than that, I propose a solution that “Ingredients Expert” Gregg Wallace should push for…

…Cook a classic – on budget 

The contestants are told to create a well-known dish (I’ll use Prawn Cocktail as an example), it’s up to them whether they modernise it, de-construct it, recreate it in classic form, or add an “ethnic” twist.

This means they have flexibility in the ingredients they choose, but – they have to stick to a budget. So, using the prawn cocktail example, Shelina could have done a spicy prawn & mango salad, but if she wanted to use Madagascan King Prawns, she would have to think carefully about how many mangoes she could afford.  Do you follow?

I think this is more interesting than “Watch Michel Roux Jr cook a dish, go over to your cooking station and read the recipe then use the ingredients the BBC have picked out for you”.

It would lead to different variations on recipes  and the editors could add in a bit more tension with “Michael has chosen the black leg chicken imported from Normandy on individual velvet cushions for his Coq au Vin, but has run out of budget for the wine and so is substituting it with Diamond White”.

West End leading lady / man shows

We’ve had searches for Maria, Joseph, Nancy and Dorothy (and there was some Grease thing a few years ago), I loved those shows and (with a few tweaks) would hardly change them.

So why are they on the list then?  Well, simply because it’s been ages (nearly two years) since the Dorothy madness and there’s no prospect of another show of this type coming up soon.

I am ignoring the upcoming search for Jesus (Christ Superstar) on ITV with Andrew Lloyd Webber because 1) I really don’t like that musical 2) searching for Jesus sounds a bit icky and I have this horrific image that the equivalent of “going over the rainbow” for the losers will be a crucifixion.

So, I propose…

…My Fair Ladies

You’ve probably worked out the musical I’m referring to here.

Dear BBC, please contact the Lerner and Loew estates and get permission for this ASAP, it would be brilliant.  As Lord ALW has buggered off to ITV, let’s get some fresh blood in, there are plenty of theatrical impresarios out there looking for extra publicity in these recessionary times.  I suggest Bill Kenwright, because I’ve heard of him and he’s an ex-actor, so he should be ok on the telly.

There’s loads of choice for the expert panel, how about blowing a load of license fee money on bringing Dame Julie Andrews over.  She originally played Eliza and was controversially overlooked for the film when Audrey Hepburn got the role.  Having Julie (the original Eliza) would help to dispel the default preference for Audrey lookalikes.

To make this perfect, I would cast Hugh Grant as Henry Higgins (or maybe Hugh Laurie, it looks like I’m stuck on Hughs here) and have whoever the Higgins is to sit on the panel.

For the third panel member, well how about the lovely Kara Tointon who has recently played Eliza in Pygmalion?

Each week the Elizas would have to do acting as well as singing and be judged on their abilities to be posh/guttersnipes/hit the top Cs – the winner would be a triple threat who could do all of these.

Come on please do it…

The Apprentice

He’s looking for a business partner, not an apprentice now, so the jumping through hoops on the tasks thing, doesn’t make sense any more – surely it’s the business plans that matter?

So, I propose

Bye, bye Apprentice 

With regret, I think it’s time to go.

2 thoughts on “Some ideas to revive the reality TV / talent show formats

  1. missemmi

    Hi Jen. I scares me a little how our brains on on the same level!! The love of Godfather and now pitching the reality TV shows. My lastest post goes along the same lines but along the lines of a whole new show altogether. Love the Marilyn post – such a tragic, complex woman and loss.


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