Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to produce award winning media - the Pop Idol Phenomena to copy

The presidential war room, the hub, the television studio meeting all share one thing in common, they are prosceniums that bring together like minded people, of a particular calibre, and in that setting exists the potential to produce strategic ideas, creative presentations or award winning programmes.

As part programme maker and media theorists the following example provides evidence of a methodology in which the future of a successful format is not so much planned, but a work in progress that highlights how the methodology accidently comes together.

There is perhaps no bigger branded television franchise show than Pop Idol. Advertising within the show costs $700,000 for 30 seconds and there are some 50 shows a year an expert announced on the the BBC's radio Britain in a Box. The following teases key moments, combined with my own interpretation.

Unlike many programme ideas, Pop Idol did not go through the normal treatment-commissioning process. It was a loose idea based on Pop stars - an antecedent show which introduced the notion of a critic being honest with the public.

Until then, and largely still ongoing, television personalities tend to be all smiley-feely with non-professional participants because any derogatory comment firstly contravenes the fairness approach adopted by programme makers, but that permanent damage will befall those shamed in front of 7 million viewers.  Oh and watch out for the law suit as well.

Phil Donahue may have introduced the idea of confessional TV to Britain, before Oprah, now commodified on the UK's Jeremy Kyle show, but at least you know what you were in for.

Nina Myskow, the UK equivalent of the blunt and acerbic Joan Rivers changed that. So Pop Idol brought in the baddy, but when Pop Idol set out it wasn't Simon Cowell who had to be prodded  to become a judge by the ITV executive Claudio Rosencratz, but I am ahead of myself.

Creating the idea
Pop Idos on paper - nothing more - was being air lifted to the BBC, which would not have been difficult because it was nothing more than a piece of paper about the jurors being the public - and it had no title.

The first exciting bit -subterfuge - occurs when with five hours from a presentation to sell the idea to  BBC execs Rosencratz gets sniff of the meeting and clears her schedule for a two o'clock meeting.

And in they poured - a lot of Simons - she says, Cowell, Fuller and others.  The pitch was made. Rosencratz needed to raise her boss David Liddiment, who was stuck in meetings, so she committed to it anyway, 50 shows n' all - which would be a lot of money for an untried format.

The programme did not have a presenter, so Donny Osmond was targeted. Sadly, his management gave the TV bosses the merry run around prompting the thought now whether he's still with his management. So cheeky-chappy presenting team Ant and Dec were called into a meeting, with the limited role of just introducing the show, and saying bye bye folks.

Then the first of the organic innovations. As the contestants were whittled down to 10 for the live show, the innovative schema would now kick in. The judges, as agreed, would no longer play a part in the show. This came as a surprise to Rosencratz, who threatened to pull the show.

Her logic was the viewers would relish the chance not only to vote, but to put one over on the judges. It's the equivalent of the custard pie in your face lark. If you disagree with the judge, here's how you get your own back. So, the judges need to stay, even if they did not have judging rights.

Another innovation of the hoof, was Ant and Dec, whom invited to watch rehearsals and ready themselves for their big 30 second moments of topping and tailing the shows, started to roam among contestants. They had time on their side, and both boys being dramatist ( in the nice sense) empathised with contestants following their Cowell maulings.

The Film makers concepts
This pathos introduced the filmic equivalent of the emotional arc. If someone was singingly really badly, the presenters would register the same emotions anyone at home would mirror. Remember at this junction of TV, this would be on camera jocularity would have been considered inappropriate.

I know this well, a video I produced which was part of an ensemble that won an award shows me speaking to my interviewee, outside of the television interview performance. It is the equivalent of verite, as Ant and Dec would show.

The next magical bit is serendipity in as much it's the luck you couldn't wish for, because you can't even plan it into your programme because it is not an integral part. Ergo, this was a singing contest, but a tawny lad walked into the auditions with his sister and stuttered his way into telling his name.

My (pause) (pause).. name, is, is... (stutter) ( long pause) (stutter)... Gareth Gates. He didn't stand a chance, not in a month on sunday.

Yet, he sang like a lark. To film makers this is what's known as a semantic field. Good-evil, poor-rich, black-white, the heart of a good Hollywood film, when two polar fields come together we are reduced to uncontrollable wrecks.

Gareth, the hot favourite spurned the programme makers to another idea on the hoof- the back story. Aware people would want to know more about the contestants, they hastily constructed contextual pieces on them.

Gareth, Will Young, and a bit part player who wedged herself into the limelight and thus set up another semantic field was Katy Price, aka Jordan: the weedy teenager and the flaxen butsy vixen.

And then to perhaps the last obvious ingredient, a postmodernistic desire for people, and acceptance by industry to continue to debate, influence the show within the moment and out of hours: twitter.

Been here before
This wasn't the first time 360 degree involvement in a media shows had been mooted. In the 1990s the US box office hit Homicide Life on the Street allowed its fan base to watch a new made-for-the-internet show, whilst the Matrix created an anime franchise to capitalise on the 'noise' its mind bender.

Pop idol had an immediate communication platform, between ordinary fans echoing and heckling their two bit, on the basis of what they thought, but also motivated to accrue retweets to build their own individual fan-base.

What therefore defined the show was a combination of an understanding of cognitive behaviour in audiencing, and the ability to change direction according to feedback looping within the idea, but above all, and as I'll go onto to prove with my next post, you need people who know there field, experts from different disciplines coming together to co-develop.

In lectures I give this harks to the "wisdom of crowds",  in which the intelligibility of the collective group, if allowed to work with, and creatively against the grain can produce award winning anythings.