Edinburgh PR firm make first comment on rise of Bake Off alternative. Holyrood PR tell you how Mary, Mel and Sue versus Paul will effect your scheduling

by Stuart Milne

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

The great de-bake-le and what it means for TV’s biggest hit

Image of baking ingredients for Edinburgh PR blog

WHEN I tell you that baking is my life, I really mean it.

I might be a PR man at heart now, plying my trade at a computer and measuring outcomes in media titles but it was not always so clear that this is what I would be doing.

The family trade is baking and, should I have chosen that path, I could have been spending my morning lightly dusted in flour pinning oatcakes rather than typing away at my keyboard.

My dad, uncle and cousins are bakers – I’ve spent half of my summers since I was eight years old kneading, mixing and proving my way to a wage – and as such it is hard to escape regular visits to the bakehouse and the free pastries that come with the territory.

So you might think that the Great British Bake Off would be something of a busman’s holiday and put me off watching the show. But no – I absolutely love it.

In fact, I will take any slice possible of Bake Off programming put out by the BBC. So, I was both alarmed and fascinated by the news that show has now been lured away to Channel 4.  My interest was piqued further when it was confirmed that Paul Hollywood will be the only personality accompanying the format across the airwaves to its new home.

There are a couple things that are particularly interesting and “knead” examining before the Bake Off takes its signature bakes elsewhere.


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For me, Paul Hollywood is the most important ingredient to ensure GBBO rises to the challenge of switching to a new channel.  Of course the show needs to select an interesting and likeable group of participants every year – but Paul is the main character.

His extensive knowledge of baking is undisputed. However, it is his handshake, general aloofness, good humour and housewife-friendly good looks that provide most of the chemistry, talking points and ultimately help make the show more watchable.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Mel and Sue, and have done since the long ago days of “Late Lunch”. I’m sure the format will miss their unique chemistry and punderful banter, but there are many presenters capable of filling their shoes even if there is some toe-wiggle room.

Not least because, for all the wonderful things Bake Off is, the Mel and Sue roles are quite formulaic:

  • Opening stream of puns surrounding the week’s themes
  • Comfort distraught contestant
  • More puns/silly accents
  • Ask judges questions
  • Announce the winners and losers

I’ll be sad to see them go – but despite how much I like the quirky pair, for this show they don’t feel irreplaceable.

Which brings me to my more controversial standpoint – because I know people love Mary Berry and she’s considered a national treasure. However, I don’t feel she adds a huge amount to the show. Sure, she is capable and knowledgeable but not hugely jovial nor charismatically interesting. To use a baking analogy, she is a solid Victoria sponge base for the show.

Regardless of what you think about my assessments of the presenters, filling their shoes will be the main challenge facing the show: the public like it the way it is and they like the people involved.

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But there could be yet another challenge because it is entirely possible that competitor shows will now arise.

Mel, Sue and Mary have all declined to move, citing vague notions of ‘loyalty’ to the BBC.

As we have seen this morning, this has opened the door to a Great British Knock Off – a similarly formatted baking challenge show which will be just different enough to avoid copyright breaches on the Beeb.

And this is now guaranteed. The Beeb has announced it is going to make a knock off rival with Mel, Sue and Mary too while a celeb chef will replace Paul (James Martin is currently hot favourite).

This means we may well see the BBC pull off a reverse of what happened with Top Gear. In the case of the anarchic motoring show the BBC lost the talent, but kept the format.

Unfortunately for the channel the revamped Top Gear tanked – while it looks like Clarkson, Hammond and May’s ‘Grand Tour’ could be a monster hit for Prime.

What is certain is that viewers were turned off by the new version in spite of its similar format – proving that the success of Top Gear was its presenters and not its format.

If Bake Off is dismissed as tired when it moves to Channel 4 it will be because the change in personnel has revealed it regardless of whether it was tired or not before.

Personally, I don’t think GBBO is its presenters. The joy most people take from it is in rooting for contestants in a way that is not mirrored elsewhere.

All other reality shows seem to have an edge of meanness buried somewhere within, where the Bake Off has only support and fluff. It is a breath of truly fresh air in a sector that has come to rely increasingly on mockery (whether explicit or not).

What Bake Off has done so successfully is to draw attention to itself by being nice to people. It’s a feel good show, with a cuddly message and that is not to be easily dismissed.

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So, what will happen to the Bake Off now? Will it nosedive or thrive?

The answer, quite boringly, is that they will lose some viewers but it will be a success.

And the Knock Off?

Probably the same.

It would be easy to be saddened by the loss of what has become somewhat of an institution on our tellys. But I give my fellow fans reasons to be optimistic.

Love Productions created the show in the first place and, by accident or design, got it spot on, let’s not write them off just yet. Similarly the BBC saw its potential and backed it.

We may lose something we love but, who knows, we might get two in its place.

But which will be a greater success?

I’ll put my money where my cake-hole is and say the Knock Off will be the Knock Out.

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