Without thinking about it, we’ve gone and run a thread through the issue again. This time it’s hosts – those spritely folk with the perma-grins who carry us through our favorite shows. While I don’t want to offer a sneak peak at any of the stories, I think there is a simple reason why some hosts fail and, by extension, so do the series they appear on: a mismatch of audience expectations.
To me, it has nothing to do with expertise. A host can have all the knowledge in the world, but they’ll fail if they don’t reflect who the audience wants on air. Stacy and Clinton work on What Not to Wear because they’re the fashionista friends we want advising us on clothing choices. Jamie and Adam work on MythBusters because they’re the geeks who grew up to be cool. (Much like myself…) Paige Davis worked on Trading Spaces because she proved that even ditsy showgirls can remodel a room, which was the point of the show. Well… she worked until TLC rammed the format into the ground, but that’s really another story.
And if you don’t believe me, ask a commissioning editor. During my conversation with BBC CE Maxine Watson for the production diary of RDF’s Road Rage School, we got onto the general topic of hosts. I asked Watson who she thought did the best job, and why. ‘Just look at Supernanny as an example of an expert,’ she said. ‘This woman obviously has a way with children. She’s extremely down to earth. You believe her – she’s credible. She’s not posh, but she has a passion for the subject, and there’s a program that she works to that you can follow. She’s absolutely fantastic with the punters.’
In short, Ricochet did a brilliant job casting Jo Frost as the nanny because she has that unique blend of accessibility, commonality and transcendence that very few hosts can pull off. Viewers have to look up to hosts, or at least respect their knowledge, but they also have to think they have a chance of achieving it themselves. Personally, that’s why I prefer unknowns over celebrities. Stars are too removed from the everyday. I can’t help but feel their emotion is acting, and I’m being played.
Without that emotional connection to the audience, factual entertainment can degenerate into a game show with whiny guests and a few prizes. And who wants to watch that?