Weaver's Week 2019-08-18

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Shipmates O'Mine


Full Fat Television for Channel 4, 5 July – 2 August

The gestation period of most reality television is short. Idea, commissioned, filmed, edited, on air. We'd raise an eyebrow if the whole process took more than a handful of months.

Shipmates O'Mine has been around for ages. It was commissioned in March 2018, when Channel 4 hoped it would rival the success of ITV2's Survival of the Fittest. You remember, the desert-based alternative to Love Island, where a bunch of fit young things are put through their paces, and hopefully snog a bit. Started in a blaze of publicity in February 2018 with a million viewers, finished during the March cold snap with about 200,000.

By July 2019, when Shipmates finally aired, Survival of the Fittest had been forgotten by absolutely everyone, including the contestants. It's quite likely that Shipmates had also been forgotten by absolutely everyone, perhaps including the contestants.

Shipmates The teams: Charlotte's Crew (left) play Ed's Team.

The basic idea is a piece of cross-promotion. Two teams of young people join the "Anchored" party cruise ship aboard the Vision of the Seas, on a trip around the western Mediterranean in June and July 2018. On board, it's sun and sea and non-stop partying with some of the coolest people in the continent. Our two teams of 5 will compete to be the "most fun" on the cruise, and the most successful team will be rewarded with a holiday to Bali, courtesy of R Sponsors.

Shipmates The Vision of the Seas.

So, we've got a popularity contest, right? Get cameras to follow the teams around the boat as they talk to people. Simple. Too simple, that won't make five hours of gripping telly. So let's throw in a complication.

The teams will be helped – or hindered – by some of the "stowaways" on the boat, people they know from real life. Look! It's your colleague from work. Ooh! Isn't that your ex from two years ago. Called your mother? Don't bother, she's here. How will the teams cope with their work colleague / ex / mother as a sixth member for the day? Invariably, the extra members were tolerated, if not an asset to their work colleague / ex / child.

Shipmates For one challenge, the stowaways brought literal baggage, a la Baggage.

The complication didn't work as a piece of drama, not least because the "stowaways" were only on the team for a single day. Had they been with the team for the rest of the journey, that would have changed the dynamics. This complexity didn't advance the story, but it did manage to confuse us about who's on the team.

Now, the "Anchored" cruise is going to visit various places around the Med. How can they best show these ports of call?

Shipmates To entertain the punters, our teams are asked to skip with a skipping rope. Are we back in primary school?

Each day, the teams do a little entertainment on board the ship, a test of their physical and mental prowess. Who knows the most about their friends? Who can do gym exercises the longest? The winners get a luxury treat when the party boat puts into port, and we are dead jealous of anyone who gets a helicopter trip around Cannes. The losers get a comedy non-treat, like a trip around Cannes on pedal cycles.

All of this is fun and entertaining, but it's got nothing at all to do with the main aim of the programme. Remember, it's to be the "most fun" on board the cruise. How can you possibly be the "most fun" if you're gallivanting off to see the sights of Barcelona? Or snogging members of the other team, your rivals?

Shipmates To entertain the punters, this team takes, er, a helicopter ride.

The smallest part of the show was making friends and influencing people on the ship. The producers and/or cruise organisers could have arranged for the teams to organise parties, work behind the bar, or sort out a high-profile guest's dressing room. Anything to show them interacting with fellow cruisers. And yet... they didn't. We saw more footage from inside the teams' cabins, and almost nothing from out on the main deck.

And another thing is missing. What happened to the sponsor? Apart from a jaunty anchor in the title caption, we see nothing of the Anchored chain, and don't once name-check the Vision of the Seas. There was some drivel in the tabloid press when the show was filmed, which we can summarise as "old folk don't like young folk having fun". Channel 4 thrives on this sort of baiting, they're not going to be put off by such tedium, but was the show going to be advertiser-funded until the advertiser withdrew? We don't know, it's only a theory.

Shipmates We've had a message in a bottle. It's from a Mrs. Trellis of North Wales...

So why was the show kept on a Channel 4 shelf for more than a year? It's not that it was a bad show. We've watched some dreadful programmes in our time. Love Thy Neighbour, where the producers went in with a script and strained the footage to tell their story rather than reflect reality. Game of Attraction, a cheap couples contest that was marred by technical failures from start to finish.

Shipmates is much better than both of these. The show feels like a genuine effort to tell the story without prejudice. All of the shots capture the moments, the editing tells a story, Stephen Mangan's voiceover is the right side of sardonic. If Shipmates had been a "physical challenges aboard a ship" competition, it would have been a very decent show. There were lots of good ideas: a winner and loser in each episode, a cut-down treat for the losers, communication from the producers via a message in a bottle. Shipmates had the elements, but they didn't gel.

Shipmates There's a party on this boat, and we weren't in it.

Ultimately, Shipmates didn't work because it was a confused programme. It's meant to be a popularity competition, and it never wanted to show us the teams courting popularity. And we get the feeling that Shipmates was making a big thing out of a small thing. For the teams taking part, this is a massive deal. For the other 1490 clubbers, it was part of the experience, an aspect of the cruise, something happening in the background. The contest they're filming wasn't a highlight of the cruise, it was one of very many activities, and one that didn't engage its voters.

On board, Shipmates wasn't an authentic competition. Most people just voted for the one team they'd seen around that afternoon. And this fed through to the television programme, it was background entertainment, and not important unless you're taking part. Channel 4 did air the show, eventually, at 11pm on Friday night – with the final episode pushed back to after midnight. It's a sad fate, but we can't say it's not deserved.

Love Island ratings

The final score is in: 5.25 million. That's how many people saw the Love Island final on 29 July. Every single night this year, Love Island on ITV2 beat the show it was against on ITV, a remarkable achievement. If we'd suggested this when Love Island came back in 2015, we'd have had a very stern word with ourselves, and told ourselves we'd be more likely to reach the moon via a matching pair of salt and pepper dispensers.

Push the Button Salt and pepper not included.

And yet here we are. When did Love Island overtake the main ITV channel? According to the ratings figures as published at the time, the first certain crossover {1} was on Thursday 29 June 2017. Over on ITV, they were showing The Confederations Cup, a short pilot series for what became Mark Pougatch's The World Cup. It became clear that tweaks were needed, as the show bled viewers throughout the night. By 9pm, the next show Killer Women was seen by just 1.84 million people. On ITV2, 2.38 million people saw that night's Love Island, an 80-minute extended special edition.

The dam had been broken. The next week, Love Island won every night except Tuesday. ITV put out a stronger line-up in the penultimate week, but Love Island still won Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, as it did in the final full week. To compete against the 2017 grand final, ITV pulled out an interview with William and Harry, princes from Windsor, talking about their mother. They can't do that every night.

2018: Mark Pougatch versus Love Island

Only one man stood in the way of complete domination last year, Mark Pougatch's The World Cup reigned supreme. The format had been tweaked and tinkered with, they knew to get the show out on time, and told some strong stories with better characters. Whenever Mark Pougatch's The World Cup went up against Love Island, the "football" show won.

The main ITV channel claimed just a handful of other victories last year, Long Lost Family What Happened Next scored a narrow win on the second Monday, 3.61m to 3.55m. But everything else they tried was a failure: Good Evening Viewers with Piers Click-change-the-channel, Stephen Mulhern's Celebrity World Cup Catchphrase with Stephen Mulhern, even The Voice Kids lost out.

Love Island Something starts here.

ITV did manage to strike back towards the end of the series, drama Unforgotten won the last three Sundays by over 2 million, and The Bletchley Circle San Francisco was victorious on the final Wednesday, 3.92m to 3.60m. But everything else was crushed beneath Caroline Flack and Iain Stirling's show.

This year, Love Island completely dominated whatever ITV put out. Perhaps they made the sensible decision not to bother with ratings and went for comfort television. The closest call was on Wednesday 12 June, when comedy drama Wild Bill came within 8000 viewers of Love Island, losing 5.485m to 5.493m. By the next week, the gap was up to 1.3m.

Boring methodological note: We've used BARB 7-day consolidated data, comparing the 9pm broadcast on ITV2 with the show rating for whatever was showing on ITV during that hour. Where ITV ran two or more shows during the Love Island broadcast, we take a weighted average of those shows. Where ITV's show ran earlier or later, we've assumed a static average – everyone tuned in at the start and no-one left early. We are missing data for the weeks ending 18 June 2017 (Love Island second week), 10 June 2018 (Love Island launch), and 30 June 2019 (Love Island third full week).

{1} We have to caveat that first crossover date slightly: prior to the 2019 series, ratings company BARB only covered viewing on a television set, and didn't include viewing on computers in the comparison figures. Viewing on the ITV website – either live or on catchup – was reported separately, in the week of transmission, and we can't simply add the figures on. It's possible that Love Island may have beaten ITV on Tuesday 20 June (against observational documentary Trouble in Poundland) or Friday 23 June (against the series Lethal Weapon).

This Week and Next

The death has been reported of Miriam Rivera, the title character in Sky's 2004 transphobic show There's Something About Miriam. She was found dead on 5 February, aged 38.

BARB ratings in the week to 4 August.

  1. Coronation Street still top of the pops (ITV, Wed, 6.65m). Love Island is the top game show, but the final (ITV2, Mon, 5.25m) is down almost a million from last week's peak. Love Island The Reunion (ITV2, Sun, 3.9m) was next on the hit list.
  2. Pointless Celebrities (BBC1, Sat, 3.16m) and The Chase (ITV, Tue, 3.155m) finished almost neck-and-neck; Tipping Point Lucky Stars (ITV, Sun, 2.8m) just behind.
  3. Elsewhere, University Challenge continued on BBC2 (Mon, 2m), with 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown leading on C4 (Fri, 1.6m). Good debut for recruitment cookery show The Chef's Brigade (BBC2, Mon, 1.25m), and an excellent week for Countdown (C4, Tue, 535,000).
  4. Leading on digital: Have I Got a Bit More News for You (Dave, Sun, 325,000), Through the Keyhole (ITV2, Wed, 300,000), and QI XL (Dave, Mon, 295,000). Leading new digital shows: Scrapyard Supercar (Dave, Sun, 265,000), Flour Power (BBC Scotland, Wed, 44,000), and Côr Eurovision 2019 (S4C, Sat, 15,000).

A quiet week for new games springs to life next Saturday, as everyone's favourite quiz is back! Yes! With skill and luck and social knowledge, you too can win S4C's shed-quiz Rhannu. There's also some new episodes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (ITV and VM1), but we don't want to give you that. We see a BBC II! on BBC1 show, The Rap Game, which might be a competition in the way the version on BET isn't.

Photo credits: Full Fat Television, Gallowgate, ITV Studios.

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