Recognising great ideas lie closer to home could be ITV’s saving grace.
“We’re Gutted” declares the headline captioning Ant & Dec on ITV’s Red Or Black? website, somewhat aptly. Gutted that the show is a stinker? Gutted that the ratings are mediocre? Gutted that a winner beat up his ex-girlfriend? Gutted that ITV simply can’t do better?
It’s claimed that Simon Cowell’s format, Red Or Black?, is the most expensive TV gameshow in British history, and it certainly looks it. Sackloads of cash have been thrown at the set, the stunts and the talent, resulting in phenomenal production values. As a viewer, you engage with the spectacle momentarily but you expect it to go somewhere; you expect some reward for your investment.
This appears to be lost on Cowell, who proudly declared at launch: “This show is not about talent or skill it is just down to luck. This has never been done before.”
There’s a reason for that, and the premise should have set alarm bells ringing at ITV about Cowell’s understanding of, and aptitude for, gameshows. Perhaps it did, or perhaps his omnipotence prevented it.
The source of Cowell’s inspiration is interesting enough - Ashley Revell who bet his life savings on red and doubled his money - but his spin of the wheel involved a back story and a huge element of risk.
Cowell clearly wanted to take the tension of the judge’s deadlock on The X Factor and supersize it but unlike the talent show, the contestants have done nothing to deserve our hearts stopping on their behalf.
Try as they might, no amount of sob stories, weepy phone calls or stirring strings are going to make a viewer invest anything in a bunch of strangers whose choices display an utter lack of skill, effort or reasoning.
Red Or Black? Bovvered? And that’s putting it politely.
That Cowell can extract a reported £15m from ITV for a show that may interest its accountants more than its viewers (ROI anyone?) shows just how far it’s prepared to go to keep him sweet and keep his talent shows. That’s one explanation for this seeing the light of day, particularly as it was knocking around ITV as long ago as 2009, when luck-based gameshow Colour of Money bombed.
Either that, or ITVS is spectacularly short of decent ideas. That seems hard to believe, given some of the talent that exists within the production arm, but the lack of homegrown entertainment hits, the reliance on Cowell and the eagerness with which ITV pursued ABC’s The Voice suggests something has gone awry.
Red Or Black? is very much Cowell’s baby; he watched rough cuts and demanded changes, sometimes, it’s understood, overruling the better judgement of others with more experience.
ITV’s downfall is believing that anyone is a TV genius; it’s saving grace could be a lessening of Cowell’s grip and a recognition that great ideas lie closer to home.
Lisa Campbell is editor of Broadcast