So, What makes a good format?

Making a good format is just like baking a cake, or cooking a meal. All you need is the right ingredients, a bit of common sense and a bit of skill.

So what are the essential ingredients to making a hugely successful format?

  1. A simple idea – You MUST be able to sum up your show in one line.
  2. A hook – the reason to watch.  Why will an audience want to watch your show?
  3. Play-a-long ability –  Also known as ‘shoutablity’ – If your audience is shouting at the telly they are engaged and likely to be loyal.
  4. Branding and style – Formats need a distinctive set and music and lighting
  5. Be repeatable – Format stays the same every show.  KEY ingredient of a Format
  6. Competition – for drama or fun.  Formats need a winner or a sense of competition.
  7. A character (presenter or contributor) – Presenter brings their personality to the proceedings and makes the show their own.
  8. Transferability – The measure of a truly successful format is how many countries you can sell it to.  A format should tap into basic or unilateral human interests demonstrating language and/or culture is no boundary to understanding it.
  9. Spin-offs and Merchandising – Extra money making is all the range now. Could you sell a jumper with your logo on, or a board game?

TV formats are essentially made up of a kit of parts, just like a car is made. These are the key elements that make the format work.  All TV game shows, quizzes and entertainment formats are made this way. Producers spend an age in development, taking apart the format and rebuilding it until they are sure that it works. If they have been given a decent budget, a pilot may be made at the early stages of development.  This ensures that the time spent in the studio is efficient and that the production runs smoothly.  This might seem a rather restrictive and prescribed way to make telly but you would have to argue that there are places for chaos or spontaneity in a format. An example of this is when a contestant wins the jackpot prize, when a celebrity does something unexpected or when the audience gets involved.

Today’s TV schedules are absolutely dominated by formats. It’s easy to see why.

  • Easy to make
  • Can be bulk ordered
  • Audiences have a huge appetite for them

And why is this?  Well, to put it simply, its because these formats tap into one or more of the following; our love of winning (particularly if for a big money prize or if beating an enemy of the show), big named celebrities, a topic of conversation and a good laugh.

Let’s look at the most successful format that has hit our screens in the past few years, Deal or No Deal.

  1. A simple idea – “22 identically sealed boxes, but only one question…. Deal, or no Deal?”
  2. A hook – A game of chicken. A single contestant will spend 45 minutes trying to dodge the unknown. Viewers get attached to the contestants on the benches helping the main contestant.
  3. Play-a-long ability –  Choose your own boxes at home, decide whether or not you take the offer. Studio audience also get involved when asked.
  4. Branding and style – A simple set of 2 benches and a main arena. The large screen with the game board plays a huge part. Tension music during offers and a distinctive opening theme. The boxes are a constant during every show. Dramatic lighting above the whole ‘arena’.
  5. Be repeatable – Game never changes. They open boxes. Only when their is a special edition of the show, e.g- Christmas or Easter then additions to the game are included.
  6. Competition – A winner and a loser, be it the contestant, or the Banker.
  7. A character (presenter or contributor) – Noel Edmonds is a constant with a fantastic personality to light the show up. Couldn’t see anybody else doing the show. Contestant shows feelings and a back story during each game.
  8. Transferability – It’s simple. The show is shown in 65 countries as it works the same in each country. Win the big sum of cash, and, beat the banker.
  9. Spin-offs and Merchandising – Board games, Lottery scratch-cards, Smartphone applications, Betting shop fruit machines, Noel Edmonds doll.
So what’s next for Deal or no Deal. It’s hard to see how the game itself can change, but it is inevitable that the audience will get tired and bored. The Weakest Link and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire are 2 of the latest examples to slowly die out. Most formats do go through a revamp. Strictly Come Dancing being one. Originally aired with amateur couples, now professional dancers and celebrities take part. It’s very hard to see how a quiz, such as Deal or No Deal gets refreshed. Massive rule changes will turn aware die-hard fans from the show, so the producers need to be very careful in what they decide to do.
Now let’s something a bit closer to home, Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
  1. A simple idea –  Irreverent pop quiz, with guest competitors from the worlds of music, TV and comedy.
  2. A hook – The comedy factor and all guests being away from the relevant roles. Seeing how they cope in a different enviroment.
  3. Play-a-long ability –  4/5 Q & A rounds.  Home and Studio Audiences can join in with answers.
  4. Branding and style – Distinctive set, lighting, music and logo. Black and white gives a retro look. Speakers to reflect music them. Logo taken from Sex Pistols album that title comes from.
  5. Be repeatable – Game never changes. Same rounds played each week. Only changes are the host and panelists. The spectacle/event = studio audience / set design/ music/ celebs
  6. Competition – A winning team each week, no prize, all for fun.
  7. A character (presenter or contributor) – Team Captains (Phil Jupitus and Noel Fielding) have become identifiable faces of the show. Hosts originally the same each week (Mark Lamarr/Simon Amstell) until recently where now, each week there is a new guest host arguably giving each show a sense of uniqueness.  An idea possibly stolen from other successful formats or the same genre, e.g- Have I Got New For You.
  8. Transferability – The only part where it let’s it down. It has been tried in countries such as Holland and Germany, but it is of a very distinctive style and taps into the unique British sense of humour.
  9. Spin-offs and Merchandising – Board games, Cutlery and CDs.
The show itself can be seen to be very tired and lacklustre. This is possibly due to other shows stealing it’s thunder, such as Celebrity Juice, although they are of complete opposites of the spectrum.
Formats. They are ever so simple aren’t they? So why isn’t EVERYONE a success. Perhaps they are not following the simple formulae with it’s unique ingredients.

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