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Script Comp


The circular economy

By Ed Waller 31-07-2017

The reality TV genre is a notoriously broad church. It encompasses formats that explore important dimensions of the human experience, that uncover interesting traits in character and raise social issues that need to be addressed. Shows tackling body image, social stereotypes, bullying, immigration and living on welfare spring to mind.

On the other hand, there are formats that feature firm-bodied youngsters trying to get off with each other in exotic locales, and all the gossipy nonsense that entails. In fact, there seems to be an entire sub-genre about youngsters trying to get off with each other in exotic locales that it needs its own name or acronym.

In the UK, one such format, ITV2’s Love Island, aired its reunion special over the weekend, following a seven-week run. Undoubtedly, it has been the summer hit of 2017, particularly for the 16- to 34-year-old demographic that is usually out trying to get off with each other in exotic locales instead of watching others do it on TV. Much more than it was in 2016 and 2015.

It’s a fun format – a dating show in which contestants live in a camera-lined villa on a holiday island and must hook up with other contestants or be sent home. ITV2 has unsurprisingly renewed the show for another season in 2018, and the first international version premieres in Germany on RTL2 in September, courtesy of ITV Studios Global Entertainment.

Hit reality show Love Island airs on ITV2

The format, a non-celeb reboot of a show that first appeared in 2005 under the title Celebrity Love Island, is certainly doing great business for ITV Studios and other UK channels are now lining up their versions of similar tropical dating/relationship formats, such as Channel 5’s Mexico-set Make or Break? next month.

But from the viewpoint of someone who has been writing about reality formats for 20 years, it feels like the early-2000s again. Back in the days of Paradise Hotel and Temptation Island, these kinds of formats were very popular, shallow-surfing their way through young adult mating rituals, offering a new twist on the dating game and a little bit of flesh that formats like Blind Date couldn’t.

Variants appeared with big twists, such as one of the women actually being a man or a purported millionaire not actually being a millionaire, until later iterations like Forever Eden pushed the surreal soap elements too far and audiences felt like they were watching something too unreal and artificial and duly voted with their remotes. The rest, as they say, is history: an entire industry in the angst-ridden creative doldrums for almost a decade.

But it’s not just ITV2 going back to the past for its unscripted format inspiration, given the costs and risks associated with new ideas. In recent months, we’ve seen networks around the world rifling the back catalogue for tried and tested ideas rather than taking a punt on something more fresh, perhaps summing up one of the biggest challenges facing format developers these days.

Instead of developing and launching any of the new formats on the market, US network ABC has spent the past few summers rebooting decades-old gameshows formats like The Pyramid Game and Match Game, for instance. Furthermore, instead of trying any of the new talent formats for midseason next year, it has simply picked up American Idol, which left the Fox schedule only last year.

The list of reboots continues with The Gong Show on ABC, The Joker’s Wild on TBS, Fear Factor on MTV, Cash Cab on Discovery, Blind Date on Channel 5 in the UK, Tilt on TV6 in Finland and – perhaps more interestingly – the revival of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Netflix.

We can all cite the cyclical nature of the TV industry, but the question is whether it reflects any creative bankruptcy in the supply chain, risk-aversion at the broadcasters or simply that it’s easier to market formats that audiences already know and understand.

Throw in a topical new host, a new bit of kit (such as VR on Tilt or social media with SnapChat’s new take on MTV hit Cribs) and you’ve got a much easier pitch than one where you’re 25 minutes in and you’re still trying to explain the gameplay. Particularly if the buyer is of a certain age and a little nostalgic for the original.

today's correspondent

Ed Waller Editorial director C21Media

Ed Waller is a media journalist working out of London, England.

He is editorial director for C21 Media, which publishes the leading international TV trade website and print magazines Channel 21 International and C21 Kids. He also regularly contributes to UK national newspapers including The Guardian, The Independent and The Sunday Times.

Ed previously worked at trade magazines Televisual Magazine and Asia-Pacific Satellite.