Posted by Jarsto in Media
August 31st, 2008 | No Comments »

I’ve been watching Maestro on the BBC recently and I’m in two minds about it. I like the show itself, which revolves around a number of celebrity’s learning to conduct an orchestra. The winner will get to conduct a piece during the BBC’s Proms in the Park. I didn’t watch the first episode, which from what I’ve heard about it later followed a slightly different format, but the two I have seen have followed a pretty simple format:

Each contestant has been given a piece of music the weak before, and a week in which to practice conducting it with the help of their mentor. We get to see some clips from the practice and then get to watch them conduct the BBC Concert Orchestra (and in the second one the BBC Symphony Choir as well) in this piece of music.

Their efforts are then initially judged by a panel of four experts who give point out of ten to each of the candidates. The two candidates with the lowest total scores then go on to the Orchestra Vote where the members of the orchestra (and the choir if present) decide which of them will be leaving and which of them lives to conduct another day.

It’s fun to watch and the music provides a nice background sound. So far so good. Except for one thing. Though the vote here is for the orchestra, rather than the general public and their phone lines, the formula is pretty representative of a lot of reality TV. And I’ve always tried to resist that type of programme in the past.

I’ll be the first to admit there’s probably some snobbery in that. But there’s also some rather more objective criticism. For a start these shows cost a lot less to produce than, say, a science fiction show. This is not, in itself, a crime, but there is a logic to TV production that – from what I’ve heard of it – can boil down to a very basic “cost per viewer” analysis of which programmes to make, and which not to make. What’s more the basic “viewers & phonelines” format of voting generates extra income from those phonelines, on top of any advertising revenue.

As long as there’s a demand for science fiction I’m not overly worried about reality TV killing it off completely. But chances are it will take some hits. Which wouldn’t be too bad if reality TV were a real replacement for it, but in my view it isn’t. Maestro peaked my interest because of two things:

  • The presence of Sue Perkins, someone I’ve liked in everything I’ve seen her in so far.
  • And the fact that I happen to like classical music quite a bit – though I wouldn’t dream of calling myself anything like an expert on it – and enjoy some of the behind the scenes stuff on what exactly it is a conductor adds to the orchestra.

So on the whole I’m not too worried that I’ll be watching the next dumbed down reality show to cross my TV guide with relish. But still, there are moments when I wonder whether Maestro might not be a gateway drug, slowly pulling me into the world of reality TV. Which is the reason I’m still a little bit in two minds about the show.


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