With the notable exception of Strictly Come Dancing, which is officially FAB-U-LOUS, the BBC tends to lag behind ITV in the Saturday night entertainment stakes.
This goes back at least as far as the 90s when the execrable Noel’s House Party helped make presenter Noel Edmonds an extremely wealthy man by delivering a programme for adults which even a three year old of average intelligence would consider unnecessarily condescending. I’m not a violent man but I still wish Mr Blobby a very slow and painful death.
And while ITV has sprinted into the distance with the light entertainment triumvirate of Ant, Dec and Simon Cowell leading the pack, good old Auntie Beeb has given us gems such as Hole in the Wall, where celebrities dressed as condoms had to contort themselves into unnatural poses to fit through – yes, you’ve guessed it – a hole in a bloody wall.
With the BBC’s obsession with walls rivalling Donald Trump, in 2019 lovable cockney geezer Danny Dyer helmed a game called – here we go again – The Wall, filmed in Poland in front of a baffled non-English speaking studio audience with even less idea of what was going on than the viewing public. Oh my days.
In the meantime, ITV’s Saturday night talent shows have made household names of the likes of Girls Aloud, One Direction and Will Young.
But ITV’s dominance of the talent show is now under serious threat from the Beeb with the launch of Little Mix The Search, where the 2011 X Factor champions are on the look out for a band to support them on their next tour. Each of the initial rounds concludes with the formation of a group with differing characteristics – girl band, boy band, mixed band and so on – with a grand final to decide the ultimate winners.
The success of Britain’s Got Talent and X-Factor cannot be ignored, but the shows have often been criticised for unnecessary cruelty to their contestants and for deliberately selecting performers with little or no talent and, very possibly, mental health conditions.
It probably hasn’t escaped your notice that 2020 has been a bastard of a year and, at times like these, the last thing we need is needless mockery on prime time TV. It’s no coincidence that the first episode of the current series of Bake Off attracted a record number of viewers and why Channel 5’s remake of All Creatures Great and Small has proved an unexpected hit. Comfort TV is most definitely a thing, and in 2020 we could do with it more than ever.
Little Mix The Search proves that you can produce a talent show without resorting to the mores of the Victorian freak show. The band – Jade Thirlwall, Perrie Edwards, Leigh-Anne Pinnock and Jesy Nelson – are entertaining, kind and knowledgeable. They are clearly having a ball, and when they do have to chuck someone out of the competition, they do it with tact, generosity of spirit and sensitivity.
Acts are clearly selected on the basis of their potential rather than for cheap laughs and – thankfully – back stories and “journeys” are kept to a minimum. If one more talent show contestant starts to bang on about their inspirational “nan” (cue shot of white-haired old dear in an oversized t-shirt bearing the image of their beloved grandchild) I may not be responsible for my actions.
The #BeKind era hasn’t always been kind to Little Mix. Yes, they’ve been successful and probably made some decent money, but they’ve also been subjected to vicious online trolling. In Little Mix The Search, these talented and engaging young women have risen above the hatred and delivered a talent show not based on mockery or derision but on love and respect.
Little Mix The Search is available on BBC One and the BBC iPlayer.