The Bachelor, Campbell Live and TV ratings

A confession: there was a time when I watched an entire series of The Bachelor. It was long ago, I was different person, I’m very sorry and I won’t do it again.

If you’re mercifully unfamiliar with The Bachelor, it’s a show where lots of good looking women compete to marry one good looking guy. For the guy it’s almost too good to be true. There are dates, there are bikinis, and he is allowed to pash as many of them as he can get away with.

Over the course of the series the bachelor narrows his options to a few hot favourites. Intimacy escalates. He meets the prospective in-laws. The grand finale is staged around a heart wrenching choice between two remaining love interests. Which one will he choose? He loves them both. Ooh, the drama and the sad music. Either way, someone will leave with a broken heart.

Like the rules of physics, rules of the heart are predictable. If you put two people in an intimate situation they are likely to develop strong feelings for each other. The format of The Bachelor pretty much guarantees that several women will fall for the same guy and that he in turn will fall for all of them.

Out here in the real world we have social conventions that help people avoid that sort of dilemma. Like, don’t get involved with three women at the same time.

The whole show is based on a contrivance that deliberately manufactures heartbreak for entertainment. I think it is awful.

It is also a rubbish foundation for true love. Let’s put the show’s success rate to the test. Of the 28 different series of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette that have been produced in its American homeland, how many couples are still together? No more than six, apparently. Most of the couples didn’t make it past a few months.

Hopefully New Zealand’s flirtation with this formula has a better ending. If not, hey, that’s showbiz. So long as we are entertained. Entertainment is what it is all about.

Entertainment is why Campbell Live is under scrutiny, facing the squeeze because network bosses are unhappy with the ratings. They want to bring more viewers to the 7pm slot by dialling up the entertainment appeal.

Many people, myself included, are upset at the prospect of losing Campbell Live. We cherish Campbell Live as prime time’s last bastion of genuine, earnest current affairs, even if we don’t always watch it.

Television habits are changing. I sometimes watch clips of Campbell Live on demand but very rarely the whole show.

So we can’t blame the network entirely. After all, what is your job as a network boss? To make a profit. And how do you make a profit? By selling advertising. How do you sell advertising? By getting the best ratings. How do you get the best ratings? By screening what most people want to watch.

And what do most people want to watch? Well, the answer to that question is why the quality of Campbell Live’s journalism is irrelevant to the discussion. Ratings are the most important thing. It is a mere popularity contest and popularity contests usually favour the lowest common denominator.

To insist that we need good current affairs on television is to argue for a principle that, sadly, has no relevance in a ratings-driven business model.

I asked some friends why they watch The Bachelor NZ and they replied, “because he’s hot.”

The more you think about where this leads local television, the more heart breaking it gets.

First published in Bay of Plenty Times 17 April 2015. Reproduced with permission.