The full, commercial horror of the Lloyd Webber / Graham Norton Juggernaut has finally struck me this week.
Following on from the success of ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria ?’ in 2006, where young hopefuls competed on national television to take the role of Maria, the series ‘Who will be the next worthy Dorothy ?’ (or something similar) is currently in full flight (‘Over the Rainbow’ – see what they did there ?), with similar youngsters competing to be the next Dorothy in the forthcoming Lloyd Webber-backed Wizard of Oz.
When The Sound of Music opened, I’m sure a lot of people flocked to the show, in order to see in the flesh the former call-centre girl, Connie Fisher, who won the television contest and became Maria in the production. The television programme regularly attracted around six million viewers each week. There’s a real fascination in seeing people live that you’ve seen on television: the same phenomenon surrounded the RSC production of Hamlet in 2008, in which David Tennant was playing the Dane, fresh from saving the universe each week as Doctor Who.
You can see a pattern emerging here: the series isn’t about television entertainment, or the chance for one young wannabee to be rescued from obscurity and cast into a glittering and well-deserved career. It’s not even about giving the national population some input into the show (viewers can vote for their own favourite in the form of a ‘wild card,’ voting to rescue a contestant who has been knocked out by the panel of judges).
No: it’s about cashing in on the tie-in between the hysteria surrounding the show and the lucrative ticket sales that will be generated by the theatre show following on from the television series. It’s all faintly nauseating: Lloyd Webber sitting on a golden throne like some sort of benevolent deity, tearful young girls earnestly describing their commitment to the show: ‘We eat, breathe and sleep Dorothy all the time now,’ gushed one contestant recently. The Sound of Music opened scarcely four weeks after Fisher won the series: hype needs to be translated into ticket sales quickly, or the momentum is lost.
And before anyone leaps up to reach through the screen and poke me in the eye, yelling ‘It’s just television: it’s just entertainment!’ I know it is: Saturday night television along the lines of X Factor, Pop Idol or Strictly Come Dancing is at its heart just entertainment. But there’s perhaps a cynical cashing-in by the ‘Dorothy’ series that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
In fairness, though, 14 pence from each telephone vote is going to a fund to support the arts.
Cynical hype-to-cash-generating merry-go-round, or top television entertainment: where do you stand on it all ?