Imagine for a moment that you’re in your beloved home, the one you plan to spend the rest of your life in, and the one people love to visit. It’s charming and perfectly you. You’re sitting around one night, playing with matches. You light a few and fling them across the room. No harm done. Then suddenly an ember catches a pile of perfectly fanned magazines on fire, and the fire quickly spreads. Soon, it’s entirely in flames.
You get out of your house safely, and call the fire department. Firefighters come and do their skilled work, and extinguish the fire. The next morning, you return to your house.
It’s nothing but wet, charred embers in piles. In a few places, pieces of the frame are still standing, but they’re broken and twisted. As you walk around, you realize you’re standing near the basement door. You walk over and push aside the debris and uncover the staircase. You take a few steps down and realize the basement is fine. The fire didn’t reach it at all. Your college futon is still there, completely intact; the boxes of childhood artifacts are still there in the corner, piled up; and the room is clear, with not even a hint of smoke in the air.
Do you then announce to the world that your house is perfectly fine? Do you invite your friends over that night, and tell them you’ll have one of your famous dinner parties, compete with the baked brie appetizers? Do you invite them to stay the night? Do you tell yourself that everything will be the same that it’s always been?
Of course not. But that is exactly what Love Productions has done with The Great British Bake-Off.
The production company—which decided to take its intellectual property, GBBO, and leave the BBC for Channel 4 in order to get more money—released a statement about the show’s future. That statement came after three of its four permanent cast members quit.
One cast member, Paul Hollywood, is staying, and Love Productions’ creative director, Richard McKerrow, referenced him in a statement:
“We are delighted to confirm that Paul is coming with the tent ready to encourage, inspire and raise the occasional, quizzical eyebrow. Paul’s presence will ensure the culture of Bake Off continues in the tent as it makes its move to Channel 4. We want to reiterate to Bake Off fans, that the show they love will remain wholly familiar, and that Channel 4 is a great place to make our show. Bake Off will be produced by the same team, in the same tent, with the same recipe.”
The same recipe? That’s a lovely sentiment, but it’s just not possible. There of the most critical ingredients are gone forever.
It is not impossible to do the show going with just Paul as a judge. Creating an identical show with just one cast member is very possible—look at ABC’s The Great American Baking Show, which is produced by Love Productions and stars Mary Berry. But no one mistakes that for the original, and its American contestants, never mind hosts, make it a distinctly different show.
Plus, the last time a television network tried a Paul Hollywood-only version of the format, CBS’ The American Baking Competition, it did not end well.
The production company is in the awkward position of having its decision result in exodus of three beloved cast members, and near-universal backlash from the fans it needs to follow the show. Acknowledging the painful consequences of that action is difficult, and I can see why ego and hubris are winning instead: Everything will be fine!
What I wish Love had done: First, acknowledge what they did—especially why they moved the show, even if the reason is only money. If this really was just about the bottom line, explain. Perhaps the story of the people who work behind-the-scenes in the tent and how they’ll benefit.
Second, Love needs to admit that the show we love has burned to the ground and it’s time to rebuild. Okay, maybe not with such melodramatic language, but that’s the only reasonable way forward right now.
- Why not acknowledge that GBBO had seven wonderful seasons (or six and that weird first season) with full appreciation?
- Why not thank and pour gratitude on the three departed cast members for making the show an international phenomenon and the UK’s #1 show?
- Why not announce that The Great British Bake Off is now starting chapter two, which will be familiar but also exciting and different?
- Why not create interest by saying the show will reimagine the competition for a new network and a new cast?
Of course, Channel 4 bought the original, and that’s probably what they want. And they are, alas, doubling-down on the delusion.
Channel 4’s chief creative officer, Jay Hunt, said in a statement,
“Paul really is the star baker—an exceptional talent with a twinkle in his eye. His wit, warmth and wisdom are vital ingredients in Bake Off’s success. I’m so delighted he’s coming to Channel 4.””
The star baker? Yes, Paul is a key part, but thinking he’s the star is absolutely absurd. Hunt may think—or want us to think—that Channel 4 is getting the exact same GBBO everyone loves.
But they’re never, ever going to get the same show with three key ingredients missing. It’s time to acknowledge that truth and move forward.