Don't Stop Believing
Judges: Duncan James, Anastacia, Tamzin Outhwaite, Chucky Klapow
Voiceover: Chris Hawkins
Shine TV and Group M Entertainment for Five, 18 July to 22 August 2010 (6 episodes in 1 series)
Emma Bunton hosts a talent show to find the UK’s best show choir.
Before we get to the show itself, we must first address the issue that this programme only exists due to the worldwide success of the American comedy/drama Glee, shown in the UK on E4, and whether it is right for another channel to align itself with a popular programme shown on another channel. Reading around the issue reveals two camps. On the one hand there are those who think that Five have been very canny in commissioning the programme, and are somewhat bemused that E4 didn’t do it themselves. On the other hand, others feel that it might have been fine for E4 to do it themselves had they so desired, as it was their successful import that inspired the programme. However it is not OK for another channel to attempt to get some success for themselves off the back of someone else’s success. Here at UKGS Towers, we are probably more closely aligned to the latter point-of-view, that it is just a little shameless to commission the programme when you don’t show the successful import that inspired it.
Leaving that issue aside for now though, let us look at the merits (or otherwise) of the programme itself. The programme opens with a group performance that acts as an introduction to that week’s six acts. Following this, we are introduced to the judges, after which we proceed to the performances. Before each act comes on stage, we learn a little more about them by means of a pre-recorded VT, which depending on the act, can drift a long way into the realms of the ‘sob stories’ that other talent shows in recent years have thankfully limited the amount of. Following this, the group takes to the stage to perform, after which they await comments from the judges – singer Anastacia, ex-Blue singer Duncan James, ex-EastEnder Tamsin Outhwaite, and choreographer Chucky Klapow. Following this, the programme plays out the same for the other five acts, before the phone lines are opened.
During the time it takes for the vote to take place, and for the results to be verified, we are entertained (cough…cough) by a performance from the ‘Supergroup’. This act consists of solo artists that have been thrown together to form a song and dance group. Initially made up of five singers, five more are added each week, with members of the Great British Public able to audition for one of the new slots by visiting the DSB Pod in a local shopping centre.
After the Supergroup have performed, the six acts return to the stage for the results. Oddly, at this stage the names of the two acts that must perform again for the judges are revealed first, and then the name of the winner of that heat is announced. Once the winning act and the runners-up have all left the stage, the second and third-placed acts return to the stage in turn to reprise their earlier performance. After this, the judges must decide which of them will progress to the wildcard vote to have another chance to make it to the final. Unusually, initially if a majority vote was reached after the third judge had made their choice, we didn’t get to hear which act the other judge would have picked. It was academic of course, but it only takes a moment, and satisfies curiosity. As such it was pleasing to see this minor issue resolved in later episodes.
Five weeks of heats sees five acts make it through to the final. However there are six places available in the final. To fill that last place, four of the five acts that placed second or third in their respective heats, and were chosen by the judges to make it through to the wildcard vote, return to the stage to reprise their performance from their heats. The fifth act chosen by the judges to make it through to the wildcard vote do not perform again, having only just performed on the same episode. Once the performances are over, the judges collectively decide which act they want to put through. This act takes the last place in the final, where they have a chance to be crowned winners of Don't Stop Believing.
Hold on to that feeling, or take a midnight train going anywhere?
Emma Bunton shows promise as host. Although there were a few verbal fumbles in the early shows, these were most likely due to nerves, and thus shouldn’t be seen as an indication of her aptitude for live presenting work.
The judging panel, it has to be said, are something of a motley crew (was Sue Sylvester not available?) Anastacia, Duncan James, and Tamsin Outhwaite are all much of a muchness, with their comments not offering a great deal in the way of insight, or things to work on. In addition, all three initially seemed just a little bit wary on occasion of saying anything negative. The fourth judge, Chucky Klapow, is probably the least well-known judge to British audiences, but he is by a long way the judge who can offer the most experience and insight having been the choreographer of High School Musical. He is also not afraid to be critical when necessary, but it’s always done in a constructive, never nasty way, and despite boos from the audience.
The inclusion of a wildcard mechanism is welcome, as it allows for the show to include a judges vote, which adds tension and excitement to the proceedings. Unfortunately, the wildcard vote winners returning to compete again is not as entertaining as it could have been, as having seen each of the acts performances twice in the heats, there is somewhat limited entertainment value for the audience in seeing them perform the same song again for the wildcard vote. It would have been better to see each of the acts attempt a different song, which would also have allowed the act from the fifth episode to perform again, rather than sit on the sidelines during the wildcard part of the episode.
The programme does tick the box in some areas, with both Emma Bunton as host and Chucky Klapow as judge being good in their roles, while the high production values of the programme is another point of merit. Unfortunately, despite this, it is lacking in most other areas. The remaining members of the judging panel don’t seem entirely suited nor at ease in their roles, and without wishing to be unkind, the general standard of the acts isn’t very high. Also, maybe we've been spoiled by Peter Dickson, but the voiceover lacks the excitement and exuberance that the role demands. Finally, despite the programme obviously being inspired by Glee, it is also very similar to Last Choir Standing, with the slight tweak of adding choreography to the performances, meaning it is quite lacking in terms of originality.
The first programme actually received fewer viewers than an episode of Glee typically receives on E4, with subsequent episodes losing up to two-thirds of the opening episode’s audience, leading to the programme being shunted to an early evening slot by the fourth episode. This is despite the programme being on a higher-profile channel than E4, and it having been backed by a heavy advertising campaign that reportedly cost £1million. Truthfully, although there was never much chance of it threatening the big UK talent shows like The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent, Five (or Channel 5 as they became during the programme’s run) were probably expecting more, and that is exactly how you feel as a viewer too, as it just doesn’t have enough going for it, to take it from just another talent show, to appointment-to-view TV. That is not to say we wouldn't like Five to have another go at producing a live entertainment show. However if they do, time needs to be taken to develop it properly, rather than just throwing something together at short notice to take advantage of the current flavour of the month.
Created by Five's then controller Richard Woolfe who reportedly came up with the idea one Sunday afternoon whilst watching an episode of Glee.
Five's first game show to be broadcast in high definition.
Australian broadcaster Network Ten commissioned a series of the programme for audiences down under before the first episode had aired in the UK. However the series was pushed back by several months from its originally announced early 2011 launch, before the network decided to stop pre-production indefinitely, simply stating, 'It may return at a later date'.
The programme was supported by a series of five-minute programmes entitled, Don't Stop Believers, which were shown between various other Five programmes during the week, with each one featuring one of the acts that would perform on that week's episode.