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The 'Return' of Entertainment Television

27 October 2017

Shaun Parry, Creative Director at Electric Ray, shares his thoughts on the ‘return of entertainment’ and what he’s looking for in the next ‘Game Changer’ for the genre

What do Backstreet, my old knee injury and TV Entertainment have in common? They’re back, hurrah!

The jazz hands waving, sequin wearing giant of entertainment has lain dormant for a while. However, encouraged by a new gang of ents-loving commissioners, entertainment has swapped its top hat for a micro bikini. And viewers are loving it. Well, young viewers at least.

Brought to us by multi-BAFTA-winning ITV Studios, Love Island is the sunshine fueled juggernaut that has careened into the tall icy walls of ‘factual entertainment with authenticity and purpose’ erected around the TV schedules. And not only has it crashed into the wall, it’s smashed through in a blaze of glory and left a whopping great hole of opportunity for an army of entertainment producers, brandishing Day-Glo PowerPoints and ideas without a ‘Why?’, to storm through in its wake (sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Game of Thrones recently and I can’t promise it won’t crop up again…).

However, it’s not like this austere wall hasn’t contained some great shows - it has. The Island with Bear Grylls was brilliant. It felt like a risky and dangerous new way of doing survival. That bit where the floppy haired posh lad fell into the sea (who knew that a size 12 croc and a size 4 flip flop weren’t the best footwear to scramble over death rocks) was genuinely thrilling. And the quest for authenticity led to an inventive new filming style - embedded crew. I loved it, until some waterproof jackets and a tarpaulin turned up one particularly drizzly day and the spell was broken.

Hunted also felt like something new and exciting. A clever reinvention of shows like 1996’s Wanted, with innovative filming techniques and a modern purpose of exploring the GCHQ monitored world in which we live. However, it’s interesting to note that even Hunted wasn’t immune to the feather boa tendrils of entertainment when the second series offered a cash prize for the winner.

So, whilst it’s nice to ponder big questions about the world we live in, the human condition and whether you could marry a stranger, it’s also nice to slip into budgie smugglers, get drunk and dance like 2.5 million people are watching.

Love Island is being celebrated as the vanguard of a new era of entertainment. However, one swallow does not a summer make. Or even remake. And I think the big question for entertainment is - Where are the Game Changers? Where is the next Big Brother, Pop Idol and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? These were groundbreaking shows that sold all over the world and spawned many successful imitators.

That’s not to say there haven’t been brilliantly original shows in the entertainment space in the last few years. Murder in Successville, for example, is a cracker. A completely new way of mixing scripted and improv, with BAFTA Breakthrough Brit Tom Davis embarrassing celebrities and living out every man’s fantasy of sharing a bed with stern faced Dragon, Deborah Meaden (Daenarys could do a lot worse than riding Deborah into battle).

However, Successville is made for a young, comedy loving, niche audience (and it’s all the better for it) but big entertainment shows have to be appeal to everyone. Grans, mums, dads, kids, even that weird uncle you sometimes bump into in the pub at Christmas. Yes, he’s got to like it as well. Which is no mean feat. There are very few things that EVERYONE likes apart from maybe cake, Santa Claus and Ant and Dec.

BAFTA-winning shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, I’m a Celeb and Strictly - some of the biggest and best on British TV - prove that entertainment has never actually gone away but they’ve all been around as long my underpants (at what point do you throw underpants away?). So when I say entertainment is back I think I mean the appetite and opportunity for something new is back. This is an exciting prospect for both producers and commissioners, but we have to be brave and take risks to create the next generation of Game Changers - bigger and better than ever before. Jon Snow would.

Words by Shaun Parry