Some are rubbish, many are interesting and occasionally one is brilliant, both in its content and timing.
As a freelancer, as you can imagine, I’m constantly thinking about what makes a successful idea.
And in most cases, especially for long running formats, simplicity is the key.
If you can’t explain it in a very short paragraph – think of the sentence or two you’d have in TV listings – then the odds are stacked against you.
What holds true in politics is equally valid here: if you’re explaining, you’re losing.
I mean, who would have thought that watching people watching television would be such a hit? But not only is Channel 4’s Gogglebox (now on its third series) a ratings winner, making stars of some of its contributors along the way, now TV3 are about to make an Irish version.
Back in the autumn of 2002, with the war in Afghanistan ongoing and talk of an invasion of Iraq in the air, I began to look at the idea of a TV documentary series on the history of modern war journalism. I was convinced, however, so straightforward was the concept that I’d quickly find it had already been made.
I probably thought exactly the same in the early development stages of most of the ideas I eventually got commissioned.
The joy of Gogglebox is that very little could be simpler than placing cameras in people’s front rooms and recording their reactions and interactions as they enjoy – or otherwise – some of the previous week’s TV output.
Sure, it takes long and exhaustive casting to get the right mix of characters. And rigging their houses with equipment is time-consuming, to say nothing of the logistics of getting everyone’s footage back to base quickly and the show turned around in time for transmission each week. But at its heart is a simple idea well executed.
The fact that I’ve personally gone off it a little – the participants and their responses got a bit predictable after a while – is irrelevant; while I may no longer watch it very often, as I’ve said many times before when a flatmate’s glued to the likes of Strictly Come Dancing, The Restaurant, Come Dine With Me, The Weakest Link, Wife Swap, The Genealogy Roadshow, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, et al, damn, I wish *I’d* thought of that.
You might also be interested in this subsequent post on the joys and otherwise of freelancing: https://www.patomahony.ie/2014/10/diary-of-a-freelancer/