Opinion: Dancing vs. MasterChef: A Weary Battle

Source: news.com.au

Yes, it’s early days; MasterChef is just commencing its fourth week and Dancing has only just had its fourth instalment.

MasterChef is now in its third series, and Dancing with the Stars is in its eleventh, however for the sake of comparison, let’s call it its fourth series in its newest iteration under new host Daniel McPherson.

On Sunday nights of late, viewers are seemingly spoilt for choice when it comes to reality competitions. Dancing kicks off at 6:30PM and MasterChef at 7:30PM, and this is accurately represented in the ratings figures.

Week 1: Dancing (1,505,000) beat MasterChef (1,503,000)

Week 2: Dancing (1,613,000) beat MasterChef (1,409,000)

Week 3: MasterChef (1,511,000) beat Dancing (1,429,000)

Source: TV Tonight

Due to this close ratings tussle, it would seem as if both shows are churning out more quality addictive content; more drama, more competitiveness, new twists, etc.

And to some extent this is true.

We have seen criticism of personal jibes at contestants (Dancing), controversy over cheating claims (Masterchef), professionals and judges spats (Dancing), spectacular triumphs and cringeworthy train-wrecks (both).

However, haven’t we seen it all before?

Well obviously “yes” is the answer there, and it would be naive to think that reality shows don’t thrive on the same formulaic unpredictability… If that makes sense.

However, there’s an increasingly dangerous sense that both shows are desperately grasping at straws to add that vital element of freshness to their shows, as both of them have glaring problems that will eventually turn viewers off them in droves.

Let’s start with MasterChef. Sure, it’s only in its third series. Australian Idol still did relatively well in its third, as did Dancing With the Stars. However, one element that is often forgotten is the Celebrity and Junior MasterChef editions that were wedged in between the first and second and second as third series, respectively.

That brings the total number of MasterChefs up to a whopping FIVE series. And lets not forget the Celebrity edition; what a spectacularly mediocre show. It is often glossed over when critics rave about the MasterChef brand, but in relative terms, it was a failure. For starters, it was difficult to root for celebrities who already had a successful career in another field, which also meant that the stakes were relatively small. If Kirk Pengilly cooked a limp souffle, he could always go back and release another “Best Of”. But that’s beside the point; the fact is, MasterChef has the propensity to look very lackluster, especially when they are so obviously going through the motions.

So, this series, so as to avoid this blight or affliction, they have seemed to have gone with the “bigger and better” approach. This obviously comes in the form of more spectacular locations and challenges, such as the boot-camp challenge in Week 1, or challenge set in the Western Australian Mine.

They have also added chef Matt Moran as a regular guest judge. Which was a logical choice, if they were to add anyone at all. However, that is the crux of the problem… It’s just all too logical and predictable. He adds nothing- no extra dimension- to the line-up, apart from maybe a slightly sterner edge (something which the show wasn’t exactly crying out for). He won’t- and hasn’t so far- bring any more eyes to the show because there is nothing electric about his personality.

So far, his presence has only served to give Gary, George and Matt some extra time off.

Good judge: yes, great chef: yes, exciting new addition: no.

The contestants have also failed to ingnite thus far. A show like this thrives on the “characters” it unearths; the Alvins, the Jonathons, the Pohs, etc. as it allows viewers to have an instant connection and familiarity with them. So far, there has been relatively little in that department (apart from maybe the “surfer” Hayden). It also needs to have genuinely good cooks… and there has yet to be a Marion emerge (someone who aces every challenge). Yet time will tell, so I will reserve judgement (let me know if you think otherwise).

And now on to Dancing. They have also tried to spice things up by giving yet another judge the chop (first Paul Mercurio, now Mark) and adding Joshua Horner. Initially I was optimistic about this recruitment; while Mark wasn’t damaging to the show, he certainly didn’t add anything special to the mix. And clearly Seven thought the same thing; he barely ever said anything controversial, nor did he ever argue with the other judges.

(You could say this about Helen too, but she plays the role of the warm, friendly judge).

Horner, then, was obviously brought in to spice things up a bit. He also brings a bit of youthful energy to the panel. However, it was all just so blatantly obvious and contrived. From the outset, it was clear that Seven had programmed him to search and destroy. His target? Brynne Edelsten; an obvious and easy target for ridicule.

Hence came his “bedazzled sack of potatoes” potshot.

Now obviously this was pre-planned, and it was so obviously out of line.

And, justifiably there was an outpouring of outrage, etc. etc

Whether Seven expected such furious backlash is hard to tell. But it is undoubtable that they relished in it. Why else would they go all out promoting the stoush?

And let’s not forget Sonia Kruger’s role in all this. Her comments about Geoffrey Edelsten looking like Brynne’s father were not as offensive, yet it is one of those jokes that everybody knows about but noone actually makes- because of how obvious and puerile it would be. Hence the comments came off as scripted, awkward and so-obviously attention grabbing.

I used to like Kruger’s comments as they broke up the monotony and scripted rubbish, but now she just goes straight for the jugular so that she can pull a “Ooh, did I just say that?” face.

I refused to tip into it at the time, basically because it would be playing right into the hands of the show (not that a measly blog post-on my blog- would make an iota of difference) purely in principle.

However, then followed an extraordinary backflip the next week. It couldn’t become an bag-Brynne-a-thon week-in week-out, especially now that she had won the sympathy of the Dancing audience. So, Horner went on to attack her partner, Arsen, for not “protecting” her enough during the Dance.

Bang! It was on again! Then followed a seemingly unplanned barney between all the judges. Todd McKenny defended Arsen, Horner kept hacking, etc. etc.

At this point everyone at Seven was rubbing their hands with glee. There was next week’s promo already.

But it was also insidiously detrimental to the show’s brand. Horner was exposed as a character with unwarranted criticism.

So, over the past two weeks he has scaled back his criticism (or perhaps Seven has) to the point where he makes bizarre comments which start off as criticism but end up as bizarre praise disguised with analogies which often leave the other judges with quizzical looks on their faces, and host Dan with an awkward gap to bridge.

And I won’t go into too far into the issue of the “Stars” aspect of the show, as obviously the bottom of the barrel was scraped long, long ago. Yes, the jack-hammer is now out and we’re in unchartered territory. There are more people who are famous by association than ever before (the true measure of a non-star): Lara Bingle (OK, she starred in that tourism ad at first, but it wasn’t until her relationship and alleged relationship with Michael Clarke and Brendan Fevola that she got some newspaper headlines), Brynne Edelsten, Nick Bracks and Haley Bracken. Then if you take out the token Seven celebrities (Manu Feildel, Dan Ewing, Samantha Armytage) you’re left with three sports people and a singer.

The dredging of the celeb pool is not the issue though; I’m willing to forgive the lack of stars as long as they’re an entertaining bunch. And so far, there’s only one clear favourite: Manu, and you don’t have to be a genius to figure out why; he’s genuine, unique, playful and just a little bit different. Occy’s heart wasn’t really in it from Day 1 (and who could blame him?) and Samantha unfortunately hasn’t ben able to show the same intelligent, bright personality she does on Weekend Sunrise.

Todd McKenny is surprisingly a saving grace for the show, as is Daniel McPherson and Helen Ritchie. Their comments are actually considered and (come across as) natural.

However, at the end of the day. I am not saying that either of these shows should call it quits (and nor will they even be contemplating it). They both have large devoted followings and to rob viewers of one of their favourite shows would be unneccessary to say the least. However, if they want to keep pulling big audiences (not just the devoted 1m or so people who will watch their show no matter what), they will each need to make some big changes to avoid going down the same path as Australian Idol and Big Brother.

And need I remind you of those shows’ respective fates? Both were reality juggernauts in their heyday. However, both just grew into tired old messes in their final seasons. Australian Idol brought in Jaydee Springbett to replace Kyle Sandilands and hopefully rejuvenate the show (a bit like Horner and Dancing) but he wasn’t comfortable as the nasty judge (like Dicko was in Seasons 1-3). The talent pool was also relatively dry (sound familiar?), and viewers grew tired of sitting through drawn out the drawn out elimination processes. Ten also brought in the dream team of Kyle and Jackie O to save Big Brother. However, nothing could save a show that was searching for its focus as much as Big Brother was (was it a vindictive, agressive show or a cheeky, immature show?).

These are all things that happen when a show begins to drag on for too long.

MasterChef will take out the tussle by the end of its run, and will likely nab a huge audience for its finale. However, I am willing to predict that it will beat, let alone match its figure from last year. Dancing will also prove another reliable success for Seven. And they are both still entertaining, don’t get me wrong, but they both will need to hit refresh if they want to keep it so.

So neither of these shows have outstayed their welcome… yet. However, there are a few muddy footprints and stains on the carpet, which can be easily glossed over for now, which- if it is continued- will start to build up and leave indelible marks in the seasons to come. (Speaking of bizzare analogies…)


Posted on May 30, 2011, in Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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