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Entertaining in the Service of the Public: How the BBC Turned Reality Competition Into Community Building

Sun, May 27, 11:00 to 12:15, Hilton Old Town, Floor: M, Haydn


This presentation examines a notable case study in which a public broadcaster tweaked the conventions of reality television to make a uniquely public-spirited program. The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4/BBC), one of the popular television shows in UK history with more than 20 international franchises, presented a new model for a reality cooking show that is not based on cutthroat competition and manufactured drama, but is collegial, educational, public-minded and community-building. A qualitative content analysis demonstrates the adjustments and additions its creators implemented. Cases such as this show that even when producing programs in the same genre, commercial/public ownership can translate to substantial variation in the character of the program. The development of the program's public spirit in international franchises will be discussed, examining how commercial networks around the world eliminated some of its unique features to reinstate familiar conventions of reality competition shows.