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Why aren’t consumer TV shows giving value for money?

July 4, 2013

TV programmes mainly divide into two types: reflective shows, which try to make viewers pause and think and be surprised, and reflection projects, which transmit the audience’s own lives back to them. When budgets and audiences are short, you will tend to get more of the latter. And consumer series are among the most pure examples of television as a mirror: the standard stuff you do – shopping, eating out, family trips – is played back, though with the distorting angle of a presenter warning that you are being tricked.

As a mainstream channel, BBC1 is always keen for people to see themselves on the screen and two new truth-about-shopping formats have launched on successive days. Thursday’s Summer’s Supermarket Secrets (9pm) follows 25 hours after Wednesday’s Your Money Their Tricks. Neatly, these franchises represent the regular divide within consumer programming between “onside” series — in which the film-makers have privileged access to the companies covered — and “offside” ones, where the footage is mainly covert.

Your Money Their Tricks, starting with the disadvantage of having been robbed by some syntactical gangster of the comma that should have been in the title, is always an unwanted visitor on the premises of the enterprises being inspected. With the exception of Sian Williams, who is seeking new TV projects after becoming the victim of a BBC executive sting in which her breakfast show was relocated to the north, the presenting team have deep shopping-TV DNA. Nicky Campbell has long form from Watchdog, while Rebecca Wilcox – daughter of Dame Esther Rantzen – is a dynastic conman-botherer.

One of the problems with championing consumers on TV, though, is that the big concerns often have very good lawyers, who may contest the legality of hidden cameras or threaten writs for defamation, and so such shows often end up with the small concerns.

Perhaps this was why, in the opening edition of Your Money Their Tricks, there was a segment in which Campbell proved that some cinema chains may be guilty of an excessive markup on their tubs of popcorn, although he also usefully established that multiplexes are unlikely to call the cops if you take your own supermarket corn.

Equally small-frying was the revelation from undercover reporters sent into Thorpe Park that some of the stall operators in the funfair are flouting the rules: by, for example, giving a cuddly toy to customers who haven’t quite got enough balls into buckets at the Lobster Pot concession, with the hope that a passerby seeing a kid carrying a Tigger will be encouraged to have a go. It was also suggested that the view-finder on the Bazookoid shooting game may not help the person very much to hit the target. There are rumours that, next week, the show sends an undercover excrement-detector into bear woods.

Presenter Gregg Wallace doesn’t have to turn up in disguise for Summer’s Supermarket Secrets because executives and staff of Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and the Co-op welcome him in, often calling him “mate” when he calls them it, either because they really like him or because he is providing such handsome free advertising for the stores.

In common with Your Money Their Tricks, this show seemed to have been subject to grammatical agonising. In the credits, the title is Supermarket Secrets Summer, but a pedant had intervened before the listings pages. Wallace revealed that Summer’s Supermarket Secrets is one of four one-off programmes to appear over the next year and you don’t need to send Campbell or Wilcox with a hidden camera into the BBC1 scheduling department to guess roughly when the others might turn up.

In form, the show is a sort of prequel to Masterchef, with Wallace tasting ingredients and test meals before they reach the table. In what seems to be an attempt to prevent the Delia/Nigella Effect, in which Britain’s supermarkets are cleared of Congan wart berries the moment they hold them up to camera, Wallace is largely following lines that haven’t yet reached the shops.

But while the presenter gets many opportunities to wear hard hats and hairnets, actual consumer advice is rare except for the datum that purple-coloured steaks are fresher than red ones, as meat blushes as it ages. Even so, the explanation of how supermarket bananas are artificially ripened was still more genuinely revelatory than anything in Your Money Their Tricks.

Paradoxically, a lot of money goes into working out what viewers might want to watch during a recession. In these cases, the cash seems to have been largely wasted because of the feeling that the real consumer scandals are hard to bring to screen. The fear is that Autumn’s Supermarket Secrets (or, possibly, Supermarket Secrets Autumn) will prove to be a lot of cold potatoes, while, for Your Money Their Tricks, Campbell is apparently already undercover in the Vatican, where he hopes to have startling news of the Pope’s ecclesiastical allegiance.

Source: The Guardian

Posted in: Front Page, Industry News

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