Why The Biggest Loser Needs To Shape Up
And so another season of The Biggest Loser comes to a close. Hundreds of pounds have been lost. Personal trainer Jillian has screamed at contestants a few thousand times. There’s been tears, sob stories and millions of excuses. And now the drastically diminished contestants will return to their ordinary lives – and resume their weight loss battle for real.
When I first heard about The Biggest Loser, I honestly thought it was going to be a horrible exercise in exploitation and humiliation. But I actually think the show has a positive message at its heart and is generally a really effective force for good on TV. And from a producing point of view it’s a very well put together show – full of inventive challenges, endless twists and turns and some really clever surprises each season.
For NBC the show is probably their most valuable property currently on air – generating strong ratings (it averages around the 8-9 million mark), good demo numbers, endless product placement opportunities and numerous branded spin off products (the books, the DVD’s, the weight loss products). Plus the show is much cheaper than a scripted drama or comedy series, and takes up a whopping 2 hours of TV time each week, 31 weeks of the year. Big indeed!
But after 9 seasons on the air I’m afraid I fell out of love with The Biggest Loser somewhat this season. After several endlessly over-padded shows (see my Fast Forward piece for more on the Supersize Shows phenomenon) and interminable Weigh Ins, I find myself more inclined to watch Idol and Glee on a Tuesday night instead…
So if Biggest Loser wants me back as a full time viewer here’s a few slim down suggestions I’d like to make. Roll on my SIX PACK OF SOLUTIONS…now drop and give me ten!
Trim The Pack. Seriously – how many contestants were there this last season – 22! I mean how on earth can you keep track of 22 contestants for the first few weeks? I certainly can’t – and it means that the first few people sent packing are meaningless to the audience. Plus it means that even midway through the season you’ve still got about 8-10 people left in the game. No wonder the Spring Season always feels a bit relentless and never ending.
My advice – keep contestants to a maximum of 16, trim the pack, and then you can always bring a few faces back down the line if you need (as has been done – effectively – in seasons past). And while you’re at it – I’d suggest cutting the episode order too! 19 shows equals 38 hours! That’s over a whole day of couch potato-dom per series… and we wonder why America has a weight problem!
Less Pounds, More Personality. Speaking of the contestants, The Biggest Loser seems to be on a mission each season to find heavier and heavier contestants – all with the most dramatic backstories. Unfortunately in the process they’re losing sight of that key contestant component – personality. For the last couple of seasons there’s been a whole slew of identikit twenty-something girls and middle aged couples that I just can’t tell apart. The result – by the final 5 there are still one of two contestants in the running that are so unmemorable you don’t even know their names! (Quick, name me this year’s top five contestants!)
This season’s standouts were bitter mother and daughter act Miggy and Migdalia and redneck couple Melissa and Lance. But now we’re left with a whole heap of dullness. And why have we never seen any gay couples or contestants on the show to vary up the pack (and don’t even get me started on Bob and Jillian themselves, both of whom send my gaydar into overdrive – and yet never comment on their personal lives!)
Plus by casting 500 pound plus contestants, the show limits just how effective the transformations can be – I mean even after a remarkable 200lb weight loss, a 300lb contestant still looks heavy and is seriously out of shape.
Keep Slimming, Stop Selling. I’m all for a bit of product placement and the odd gratuitous sales pitch – but at times The Biggest Loser just becomes one big long infomercial. There’s the endless Subway shilling, the chewing gum plugs (I mean Wrigley as a diet aid – really?), the blatant Britas sales spiels… week in, week out. If you thought Project Runway, The Apprentice and Top Model were bad – they’re rank amateurs compared to the biggest commercial machine of them all.
But the cumulative result of all this endless selling is that it doesn’t enhance the show – it cheapens it. As audience members we all know these product placements are a way for NBC to make further money from the franchise… but The Biggest Loser is already a successful show. By using valuable screen time to sell more and more products we the viewers just roll our eyes – and reach for our DVR’s.
I understand the need to make extra ad money but I’d pay more attention to the commercial plugs in the Biggest Loser if they actually made sense with that week’s theme – and if it wasn’t the same products week in, week out. So next season, instead of doing blanket deals with the same key firms, why not shake up the commercial spots – feature low fat ice creams one week, a calorie counting aid the next. Anything to spare us from yet more Subway spots. Please!
Check The Ingredients. The Biggest Loser has so many great twists and turns – and most of the time they’re fantastically well produced. But nine seasons in, what used to be surprising and smart – is now becoming deathly predictable. So it’s time to shake up the pack!
We all know the Home Visits are a great way of seeing contestants slipping up on their diets – but repeated year after year these trips are as commonplace as a Jillian freak out (ditto the numerous shots of family members with home made banners waiting for their loved ones). What if one season contestants were sent to each others’ home for a change. Or no-one was waiting for them!
Ditto the makeovers – which are a great device, but why not save them for the final, or make contestants responsible for their own – or each other’s makeovers! Add to the list the endless marathons (fresh for one season, not well past their prime), the consistently dull cooking challenges (this isn’t Top Chef – who cares how these contestants fare in the kitchen) and the always uninteresting pop quizzes (great for a few minutes – but which always drag on and on).
Lose The Last Chance Workouts. Really what is the point of them? They happen every episode. Always involve lots of grunting, sweating, and Jillian screaming. But nothing much ever really happens in this penultimate workout scene (since all the tears and tantrums seem to happen earlier in the week). So what we’re left with is 10 minutes of workouts, lots of motivational pep talk and the sense that that gym must really smell bad at the end of each session. Watching people work out really is pretty dull TV, and I get the sense that it’s the one part of the show the producers don’t really think about – ‘oh we’ll just throw together a workout montage and some grimacing’. Honestly guys, we the audience can tell…
Keep It Light. Just like American Idol, story is now king on The Biggest Loser – as each contestant comes fully packaged with a dramatic sob story – which Jillian is just waiting to unravel (except Jillian is a personal trainer not a psychologist – and therefore the scenes always feel contrived – she isn’t exactly Miss Congeniality)
I’m all for a good story but the key to a good reality show is what happen AFTER the contestants begin their televised journey not BEFORE it. The problem with excessive back story is that many times players are cast on the strength of a good sob story – rather than an amazing personality. The result – many dull, inter-changeable characters and limited actual on screen drama. The Biggest Loser is always eventful because it’s well produced, the extreme weight loss itself is inherently stressful for contestants, and the show’s makers do everything they can to keep things extra interesting. But sometimes it feels like it’s the producers making the show, rather than the contestants. And it should never be that way around…
So that’s my Six-Pack of Solutions to keep The Biggest Loser on top for many seasons to come. It may hurt guys – but you know what they say – ‘no pain, no gain’….
But what do you think? Are you still a Biggest Loser fan? How would you shake up the show? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
|Print article||This entry was posted by Richard Drew on May 24, 2010 at 11:04 pm, and is filed under OPINION, REALITY. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|
about 3 years ago - No comments
Pickets, Protests And A Very Public Dispute
Wow, it’s all kicking off down at The Biggest Loser ranch today – and not just in front of the cameras. This time it’s not Jillian’s shouting or a near comatose contestant making headlines – but an ugly behind the scenes dispute that is causing a whole lot of controversy.
In case you haven’t heard, large sections of The Biggest Loser crew – many of whom have been with the show for several years – have gone on strike. They’re demanding the right to unionize which will apparently help members accrue health and pension benefits. The crew are allegedly also unhappy that they’ve received virtually no wage increase since Season 6 (the show is now on Season 11) while the show has stayed a profitable franchise for NBC due to its constant product placement (many segments of the show are virtually paid advertisements) and relative ratings stability – at least for NBC.
Meanwhile the show’s producers – 3 Ball and Reveille – allege crew members are paid above scale for the show and that the series recent declining ratings mean there simply isn’t any more money to go around, especially in these tough economic times. For the full details you should jump over to Nikki Finke who’s been running a virtual blow-by-blow account of the whole messy affair.
about 4 years ago - No comments
Dropping Pounds And Dropping Ratings – Are Weight Loss Shows Over?
So recently I took a look at Thintervention, Bravo’s new weight loss show, anchored by lesbian gym owner Jackie Warner.
In typical Bravo fashion it was a very polished and well-produced show – full of upscale contestants with strong personalities, tightly edited and with some nice touches (I liked how Jackie would literally turn up on contestants’ doorsteps at just the worst moments)
But as much as I liked the show I can’t help but shake the feeling that weight loss as a whole is a really played out genre on TV today. And it seems I’m not alone. Lifetime’s Diet Tribe and Oxygen’s Dance Your Ass Off both collapsed in the ratings from series 1 to 2, Losing It With Jillian could only scrape together 3-4 million an episode in its summer slot on NBC, and over on Vh1, Money Hungry has the dubious distinction of being one of the lowest rated shows of the year – just 225,000 viewers tuned in for the show’s last installment!
about 4 years ago - 3 comments
Summer is almost over so it’s time to put away those BBQ sets and beach towels for another year. But before we settle down for the Fall TV Season – here’s 15 Lessons We Learned From Summer 2010…
Networks Execs take note!
1) Scripted Network Dramas Are Dead: Witness NBC’s Persons Unknown (aka Persons Unwatched), ABC’s Happy Town and the Sunday night snoozers The Gates and Scoundrels. All four struggled to attract more than 3 million viewers a week and barely made it through their runs. And the only real scripted ‘hit’ of the summer, ABC’s Rookie Blue, was a middling 5 million rated cop show.
2) …But Scripted Cable Shows Are Hot: Where to begin – Rizzoli and Isles, Covert Affairs, The Closer, Haven, Melissa and Joey, Hot In Cleveland… this summer audiences switched over to cable big time, a cultural shift that will only continue in years to come… fact is viewers are loyal to shows NOT networks. If you want an audience now you have to work for it!
3) Weight Loss Shows Are On The Way Out: The Biggest Loser is still a hefty hit but too many copycat formats failed this summer… Dance Your Ass Off was down year to year, Vh1’s Money Hungry was an outright bomb (see Lesson No 10) and even Losing It With Jillian underperformed. Meanwhile Huge did big business for ABC Family and Drop Dead Diva remains strong for Lifetime. Has the weight acceptance tide turned?
about 4 years ago - No comments
It seems like everywhere you look these days big is in!
Dance Your Ass Off is a smash on Oxygen while The Biggest Loser continues to rank as NBC’s most valuable franchise. Over on TLC there’s One Big Happy Family – a docu-soap about an overweight North Carolina family while Style’s Ruby follows an obese woman’s weight loss journey.
On the drama front there’s Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime, following a skinny blonde girl resurrected as a plus size lawyer and now there’s Huge on ABC Family, a series set at a camp for overweight teens. Come the Fall we’ll be seeing Mike and Molly, a CBS comedy about a couple who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Sure you probably won’t be seeing too many fuller figures on The CW, but elsewhere the message is clear – America’s body shape is changing – in real life, and now on the not-so-small screen.