ITV shines with summer reality hit

'Talent' show bows to big numbers

LONDON — Let the sunshine in.

After two years of the summertime blues, Britain’s biggest private terrestrial broadcaster, ITV, has finally got a summer hit on its hands. “Britain’s Got Talent,” adapted from the U.S. program “America’s Got Talent” that bowed on NBC to big numbers last year and continues to score, in a bonafide success and is Blighty’s most popular new show of the year.

Not even the third British season of “The Apprentice,” (still a hot show in the U.K.) that ended June 13, or the eighth run of “Big Brother” could dent the appeal of “Britain’s Got Talent.”

The final “Talent,” aired June 17 drew an audience share that reached 49%. So how come this new series scored? Or was it always a no-brainer?

Every webhead knows that talent shows are programmed into TV’s DNA. The genre moves in and out of fashion, but thanks to folk such as Simon Cowell, the right talent skeins are normally hits for broadcasters in key territories.

Even so, ITV, which desperately needed a summer hit following the fiasco of “Celebrity Love Island” the last two summers, wasn’t sure. To minimize the risk, hosting chores were given to Ant and Dec, the double act that defines ITV1’s entertainment portfolio more than any other single performer and who recently renewed their exclusive contract with the broadcaster.

As for the judges, Cowell is as big a draw with auds in Blighty as he is in the U.S. while ex-tabloid muckraker Piers Morgan — famous for reducing young contestants to tears in “America’s Got Talent” — knows what’s required for this kind of thing. The third judge was Amanda Holden, a British TV and stage actress on board as “the rose between the two thorns.”

But “Talent’s” real appeal was its acts. As Cowell says, “People love off-the-wall stuff.”

There was a woman performing a duet with a Poodle, a man attaching 145 clothes pegs to his face, closet baton twirlers and a 54-year old male Kylie Minogue.

The finalists included two juggling bartenders, a singing 6-year-old and eventual winner Paul Potts, a 36-year-old wannabe opera singer whose decidedly nondescript appearance would have ruled him out as a contestant in “Big Brother.”

The important difference between “Britain’s Got Talent” and other modern talent shows such as “The X-Factor” and “Pop Idol” was that “Britain’s Got Talent” recalls an earlier, more innocent TV era when the word “aspiration” was absent from the TV lexicon.

“This was a traditional talent show, whose roots go back to the ’50s and shows like ‘Opportunity Knocks,'” says entertainment producer David Housham.

Even the prize money is modest, with £100,000 (around $200,000) going to the winner. The real carrot was a spot performing in front of the Queen at Britain’s annual Royal Variety Performance.

Naturally “Britain’s Got Talent” will be back on ITV1 next summer. But as everyone knows, one hot show does not a summer make.

A single summer hit is a long way from an ITV1 revival. But “Talent” suggests the web is at last traveling in the right direction and regaining contact with audiences who felt insulted by the lack of imagination that led to embarrassments such as “Love Island.”

ITV toppers will be watching anxiously to see if the other entertainment and drama shows lined up for the rest of the summer can come close to matching what “Talent” achieved.

If not, they know Simon Cowell’s number.

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