Can The Voice Help BBC One Beat The X Factor Blues?

In BBC1’s latest attempt to prove its Saturday night entertainment output is not just a one-trick pony trotting around a ballroom, usually with Anton du Beke onboard, Auntie has acquired the rights to US talent show The Voice. First the good news: this series, based on a Dutch TV format by Big Brother creator John de Mol, is a copper-bottomed hit in America.

The hopefuls on The Voice are picked during “blind auditions” with the judges sat facing away from them when they sing. It’s a process that, if we’re honest, appears unerringly similar to the Beeb’s fumbling-in-the-dark, pin-the-tail-on-the-format approach it seems to have adopted when commissioning new entertainment programmes outside the Strictly Come Dancing calendar. And it’s one that has prevailed ever since Noel Edmonds’ hairstyle began to look dated (that’s a looooong time, folks).

In fact, a good analogy is to hark back to--of all things--ITV’s World of Sport wrestling in the 1980s. Then, week after week, Big Daddy would team up with a much lighter, weaker tag partner, who’d get pummelled before the children’s favourite charged into the ring to save the day by doing that splash thing he did, where he’d throw his entire weight on his stricken opponents. Job done.

Well, you can think of Strictly as BBC1’s version of Big Daddy. It’s been fighting virtually single-handedly in the Saturday night ratings war with ITV1, attracting decent viewing figures late in the day when all seemed lost with its puny featherweight stablemate shows. And, if you include Ann Widdecombe’s dance moves, it even added a splash finishing move or two. Nevertheless, even Stricty often landed short of The X Factor’s audience figure.

We reckon The Voice is BBC1's best chance in years, although a heck of a lot depends on when this year it’s scheduled; whether it goes head-to-head with a Simon Cowell (Giant Haystacks) rival; or, less critical but still a huge factor, how good the make-up of the judging panel is, particularly if it involves a certain member of Girls Aloud (no, not Sarah Harding).

Seeing as all this won’t be known for a while yet, we thought it would be helpful if we offered the BBC a note or two of caution. And for this we’ve delved into its recent back catalogue of Saturday night entertainment shows. The good, the bad and the Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Beginning with Noel Edmonds’ triple threat of The Late, Late Breakfast Show, Noel’s Saturday Roadshow and Noel’s House Party. Together they lasted the best part of two decades and saw viewing figures go through the roof. Yet no amount of nostalgia can disguise the fact that millions were tuning in every week to see a man in a giant pink Mr Blobby costume falling over a lot and embarrassing celebrities. These days, they’re called WAGs. Successful though Noel’s series were, those days are long gone. Thankfully.

Big Break came and went--a game show based on snooker trick shots (who knew that format would fail, eh?). Then the BBC launched a counter-attack to the Popstars/Pop Idol/X Factor juggernaut and called it Fame Academy, which was doomed to ultimate failure for one beautifully simple reason. It wasn’t Popstars/Pop Idol/X Factor.

It tried again with Friends Like These, at which point we lose all sympathy with the Beeb because they decided the hosts Ant and Dec were surplus to requirements and let them get snaffled up by ITV. One of the worst decisions they’ve ever made.

And so it’s no surprise we’ve seen catastrophes like Totally Saturday and Don’t Scare The Hare alongside run-of-the-mill Lloyd Webber and John Barrowman publicity vehicles. Of course, let’s not forget, the corporation hoodwinking itself with Strictly into believing every new series must involve some element of dance (the less said about Dance X the better).

Our final word of warning to Auntie, if it believes it’s got a nailed-on smash with The Voice is this: So You Think You Can Dance was also, remember, an American television hit originally, and it bombed so spectacularly here that it’s highly unlikely ever to return to British TV. The cold, harsh truth is that SYTYCD lasted one series less than that long-gone Saturday night behemoth--Pets Win Prizes. Just because it’s popular in America doesn’t mean it will work here, but we hope for the Beeb’s sake it does.

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