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Development Insider: Britain’s Got Talent?

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photo by das.viereck

Choosing a credible factual presenter is a perennial problem

Finding good onscreen talent is increasingly difficult in an age when everyone wants to have a go. Ask potential talent what their interests or, heaven forbid, ‘passions’ are, and, I assure you, the list will never end.

Take Martin Clunes, odd-choice-of-presenter-extraordinaire for the recent Islands of Britain (ITV). He introduced the programme with the fond recollection of how he ‘had fallen in love with the British Isles.’ Commentators have subsequently remarked, with some cruelty, that this love affair probably began shortly after his pay cheque arrived. What on earth does Clunes have to do with the territory? He really likes islands, particularly British ones? Is that enough? Apparently so for ITV commissioners. Yet they’ve told us time and time again what they’re looking for in a presenter:

  • New faces
  • Impeccable qualifications
  • But most importantly, no one too “white, middle class and male.”

Yeah, right. How many screen tests of talented young things have been greeted with thin smiles by commissioners, only for them to suggest the inevitable Nick Knowles instead?

The truth is, commissioners know that audiences still want to spend an evening with their TV ‘mates.’

“Ooh look, it’s James May on the Moon,” (BBC2). Doesn’t matter that he has never been to the Moon, or have any galactic connection whatsoever, they just love it. The point is James knows a great deal about one subject – cars; and that knowledge makes him an authority on just about anything in TV land. Indeed, if presenters veer off their chosen subject then so much the better.

In this way, Jeremy Clarkson: Greatest Raid of All Time (BBC1) worked fantastically well. Victoria Wood in Victoria’s Empire (BBC1) also worked, oddly, despite the very tenuous connection, because she’s a very gifted comedian. Peaches Geldof’s Beginner’s Guide To Islam (Ch4), on the other hand, didn’t. Simply because she’s not known for knowing about anything else. Then others simply don’t make sense- Kwame Kwei-Armah in On Tour with the Queen (Ch4) (he has family in the West Indies.) And some ultimately shouldn’t make sense, but do – Ben Fogle on Crufts (BBC2) (he has a dog.)

But commissioners must be careful.

These talent choices can only lead to academically-impoverished factual programmes. Interest and ‘passion’ is no substitute for genuine expertise. And if we keep indulging them, we’ll one day wake up in a world where Mylene Klass inherits The Sky at Night (BBC1), just because she’s studying astronomy with the Open University!

By Bezlshazzar (who works in a development team near you…)

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