Where has Television's real X Factor gone?

Two night’s ago I watched The Block – Villa Wars on TV3 and last night I braved Masterchef Australia on TV ONE – sadly my other half keeps clogging up the planner with X Factor UK … and all of these occurrences have prompted me to expand some thoughts with this post.

Around 20 years ago the TV landscape changed both on screen and behind the scenes, as a viewer you don’t really need to know how or why but I will share. Cameras went from being analogue to digital and broadcasters around the globe started to accept programmes for broadcast shot on $5000 cameras (previously the average price of a broadcast camera was in excess of $50K).

Editing became non-linear – basically meaning that a standard ‘tape to tape’ edit suite costing a facility at the very least a quarter of a million dollars and at the very least a hirer $250 per hour – could now be replaced by a powerful computer costing around $20K.

This had extraordinary and immediate impact. What it meant was, that as opposed to very expensive documentaries – TV Producers could now film and put out an inexpensive new genre called ‘reality’. Although the documentary makers continued to charge the commissioners the exorbitant sums for delivery that they had previously charged in the analogue/non-linear days, what this revolution also enabled was the introduction of ‘documentary’ (reality) segments into previously, ‘recorded as live’ or ‘studio -based ‘ entertainment programming – such as talent and cooking shows.

This gave us, the viewers, the opportunity to ‘meet’ and ‘get to know’ ordinary people in entertaining and revolutionary programme formats. The ordinary people became the stars, we got to know them, their family, their lives, their backgrounds. They were basically doing what they’d done previously singing, dancing etc although in the case of ‘studio-based’ cooking, the format of these shows changed completely but we just got to know them better and for a while … it WORKED !

To start with, we were fascinated. Andy Warhol’s suggestion that everyone would have 15 minutes of fame, seemed to be coming true – and indeed many people seemed to enjoy rather more than their quarter hour. Although as the years dragged on the ‘formats’ seems to take over and the reason for their creation and the people involved seemed to matter less and less.
Singing shows became less and less in tune with what the audiences wanted, our taste for cooking shows started to sour and the DIY shows started to look more and more like ‘bodge’ jobs. But Why ?

Well in my opinion, the Producers have stopped delivering stories worth watching and the viewers have simply tired of seeing ‘normal’ people on screen every night. We actually want to see talented, celebrated, professionals who have a reason for taking up our time.

If it’s a singing show we’d prefer to see singers. A cooking show – well give us a chef – and a DIY show – let the experts show us how to do it.

I think there’s absolutely a place for a ‘talent’ show, but I don’t think we want to see a Top 12 for 3 months, I think we’d prefer to travel the country meeting new acts every week and celebrating the talent who’ve already proven themselves … and before you ask, YES I do have a format for such a show.

Whether our programmers in New Zealand are brave enough to buck the International trend and pull away from the 2 decade old trend in Entertainment Programming where the reality ‘factor’ remains integral is yet to be seen, but I hope they might. As we were the country that pioneered the genre, after all ‘Popstars’ started here, let’s lead the way once more.

I hope that the programmers at ALL the networks show the foresight and vision in accepting that the viewing audience is tired of the same old formats. In saying that we are talking about the WAY to MAKE and CONSTRUCT a programme and not just the title. It’s clear from worldwide viewing trends that audiences are ‘over’ seeing ordinary people on TV, who for the most part these days are simply doing very ORDINARY things.

Time to bring the ‘X Factor’ back into TV – and for those of you under 20 years of age, that doesn’t mean the TV show of the same name!

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About the author

Nigel Godfrey

Nigel Godfrey has vast experience in the television industry: working for Thames Television (UK), Channel Ten (Australia), The Australian Film and Television School, TVNZ and Southern Star. He worked on The International Final of Miss World broadcast live from The Royal Albert Hall to an estimated worldwide audience of 500 million and the opening ceremony of The Commonwealth Games in 1990. He has enjoyed a variety of positions including numerous acting roles on television, film and stage, senior floor manager, directing, writing and producing hundreds of hours of broadcast programming and television commercials. Nigel was instrumental in the set-up and operation of New Zealand's first regional television station CTV, and founded Eureka Productions.

Nigel has worked with TVNZ on Masterchef, Idol, Stars in their Eyes, So you Think you Can Dance, Deal or no Deal and countless other primetime franchises.

NZ highlights include producing the 2009 telethon, The New Zealand Variety Show, children's show "Y", Sky Scene, The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

When he does have any time to spare he’s normally watching TV or spending time with his partner and 3 daughters at his home in Auckland.
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  • Harrison

    Your format sounds like something I (and I’d say many others) would be interested in watching. With The X Factor (especially the UK one) I think one of the main problems is the manipulation by the producers (surely you would know about this having worked on the NZ version). These days so many people believe that the judges comments are scripted,, mainly to push some acts, and they are told how to vote. How about a fair competition, give fair running orders instead of trying to get rid of certain contestants (two specific instances on the NZ version come to mind). Even the staging is said to be used to make certain acts look better/worse than others!

  • benpaul12

    Generally aren’t we all a little over talent shows and reality TV? Aren’t we all a little over this style of TV which has been dominating the screens since the late 90s?