Event television goes extraterrestrial in race for ratings

Channel 4 is doing a ‘lap of the planet’. But how can earthbound TV producers grab viewers?

Dermot O’Leary: presenting ‘Live from Space: Lap of the Planet’

Dermot O’Leary: presenting ‘Live from Space: Lap of the Planet’

Thu, Mar 13, 2014, 01:10

In what will either prove an unmitigated disaster or a might-as-well-give-up-now moment for its rivals, Channel 4 is popping out to space this Sunday for a live broadcast presented (from Earth) by Dermot O’Leary, the X Factor host more usually seen orbiting his own foot.

As event television goes, Live from Space: Lap of the Planet is going to be, literally, stellar.

The rationale for this climax to the Channel 4 space season is clear. All broadcasters now exist in a universe that is multi-channel and multi-platform, subjecting viewer ratings for individual programmes to a quiet gravitational pull.

This has ignited a space race for bigger, crazier “event TV”, or the creation of easily promotable extravaganzas that simply must be watched as they are go out on old-school “linear” channels.

But what makes “event TV” a hit? Inspired by recent events, here’s a 10- point primer for producing a big bang:

1. Dazzle them with your incompetence: Nothing on television has been funnier so far this year than the Late Late Show ’s Eurosong scoreboard, constructed only to show a maximum of 99 points despite a possible top score of 120.

2. Don’t try too hard: When The Graham Norton Show invited movie star Will Smith to relive his Fresh Prince . . . rapping days, it lacked the illusion of spontaneity and had “naked bid for YouTubeable moment” written all over it.

3. Go backstage: Otherwise known as just another part of the set, a “backstage” area packed with competition winners and other people pretending to have a good time will lend any youth-oriented event TV the faux-chummy tone it apparently demands.

4. Call it a telecast: It’s always the Oscars “telecast”, never just the Oscars show, and that’s because the word “telecast” makes it sound like the occasion has an inherent value that wouldn’t implode into a black hole if the cameras went home.

5. Be hashtag-flexible: Twitter users, not marketing departments, invented the social media punctuation that is the hashtag. If they come up with a pun-tastic hashtag for your show, and it catches on, keep pumping out the dull “official” one by all means, but no one will respect you for it.

6. Not every night can be fight night: Of all the things Simon Cowell has to answer for, the phenomenon of the entirely predictable screen “fight” is the most tedious. Just because it might seem like a good idea to get Roy Keane and Katie Hopkins on the same couch doesn’t mean they would actually kill each other.

7. Form a supergroup: Back in 1990, Channel 4 hit event TV gold with the original Three Tenors concert, broadcast live from Rome. Of course, it helped that the BBC had been playing Nessun Dorma on its World Cup title sequence for weeks, effectively doing its publicity for them.

8. Embrace hate-watchers: When Conservative MP Aidan Burley tweeted that the London 2012 opening ceremony was “leftie multicultural crap”, the one- time participator in a Nazi-themed stag party duly cemented Danny Boyle’s effort as the opening ceremony of all opening ceremonies.

9. Don’t just add One Direction: The makers of a BBC Three show about the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who thought it would be a good idea to shoehorn in a satellite-link interview with the humanoid boyband. It wasn’t, and the audience’s collective cringe could be seen from space.

10. Style it out: In the days when social media mentions are considered a key performance indicator, remember that there is no more reliable meme generator than weird hair.

None of the above unasked-for advice will be any use if the on-screen talent isn’t a natural broadcaster, and luckily in Dermot O’Leary the producers of Live from Space have someone who is capable of wittering through a vacuum should Houston have a problem.

If all goes according to the 20-month plan, his destiny will be to engage in extraterrestrial chat with the staff of the International Space Station and other assorted Nasa hangers-on, who will share high-definition images of the planet for the delight of all but the most jaded of viewers. What can go wrong?

Even if the astronauts turn out to be boring and refuse to sing David Bowie classics on request, there’s always a chance that monsters will just happen to attack the ISS during the live link-up, thereby ensuring a ratings bonanza to end all ratings bonanzas.

When the aliens finally come, no one is going to be binge-watching Netflix. We’ll all be glued to Sky News, checking out the latest in intergalactic hair.

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