Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bad Format

Well, I wasn't expecting that.  I've just been reading that Edd China has left Wheeler Dealers.  As I'm sure I've mentioned before, Wheeler Dealers is one of my favourite car-related TV shows and the idea of it without mechanical maestro Edd China in his workshop overhauling the various clapped out cars bought by Mike Brewer is, pretty much, unthinkable.  Edd has put out a short video on You Tube explaining the reasons for his departure.  Basically, it all comes down to something that often afflicts popular TV series: format changes in pursuit of ratings.  Apparently, the last couple of series have been produced by one of Discovery Channel's US subsidiaries, rather than the original producers, Attaboy Productions.  (I say 'apparently' because I only watch it on Quest, which is only up to series eleven - the changes occur from series twelve, half of which was filmed in the US, with series thirteen moving the whole production across the pond).  Incredibly, the new production company decided that the workshop sequences were too difficult to film and decided that it wanted to cut down on them.  Which seems bizarre, as they are, in essence, what the series is about. 

It would seem that this another case of a popular format being acquired by a new producer who doesn't actually understand the basis of the series popularity.  Clearly, Discovery wants to widen Wheeler Dealers appeal in order to attract more viewers, yet in doing so, it is undermining the the actual point of the programme.  Their argument would be that those workshop sequences limit its appeal to car enthusiasts - which is obviously true, they are, surely, the target audience.  Also, despite being an international success, Wheeler Dealers is very British in its ethos, which, I'm sure, is part of its appeal, moving the production to the US risks undermining this 'Britishness'.  But this isn't the first time that new producers have failed to understand what makes a format popular, bringing in unnecessary and  usually disastrous changes.  These days you often see it when they 'reimagine' old TV series for new film adaptations: just look at the movie versions of The Man From Uncle, The Equalizer or Bewitched, for example - all are left virtually unrecognisable from their inspirations.  It sometimes happens when a TV format is bought for an overseas remake.  I've written elsewhere here about the US version of On The Buses, Lots'a Luck, which had so many changes made to it that one was left wondering why the US producers had bothered buying the format. 

Significantly, the TV shows which have made the most successful transitions to the US are those which have had the fewest changes made to their formats.  'Til Death Us Do Part, for instance, made a successful transformation into All in the Family, because it only really changed some of the cultural references.  It was still about a bigoted patriarch adrift in a modern world of multiculturism, clinging to to his outmoded world view like a comfort blanket as he sees the certainties of his old working class culture vanishing.  Similarly, Steptoe and Son successfully crossed the Atlantic to become Sandford and Son - it was still about the fraught father-son relationship between the proprietors of a junk yard.  As for Man About the House, that needed next to no changes to become Three's Company in the States (even copying the originals spin offs).  By tinkering too much with a format, though, you always face the danger of destroying the very thing which made it popular in the first place.  I mean, imagine if the Shed and Buried format was to be bought by a US producer who decided, in order to broaden the show's appeal, that they'd have to feature less of Henry Cole and Sam Lovegrove rummaging through sheds and barns full of automotive junk?  It would be an unmitigated disaster.  But this is, in effect, what Discovery are doing to Wheeler Dealers.



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