Commenter J.Harper just alerted me that one of my latest obsessions is coming to American shores…again.
I got into the Great British Bake Off (GBBO to the fans) last fall when I started streaming BBC One regularly. The show was on its fifth season by then, and had recently moved from BBC2 (where the home and garden programming resides) to the main channel due to the overwhelming popularity. I was stunned by the format. Unlike every other reality show I’d seen, this was so humane. On shows like Project Runway and Face Off, contestants are ripped from their homes, lives and jobs, and shacked up with multiple roommates in mid-level hotels (in NYC) or “mansions” who are trying to get out of the porno business and go straight (in LA.) This means that not only does one have to be talents in a certain area, but one has to have the type of personality that can withstand months of homesickness, an extroverted personality to be around strangers all the time, as well as being on for the cameras. This leaving the job also meant that many contestants have nothing to go back to when they are eliminated. Many wind up on a sort of Z list reality show circuit. (Like Chris Soules, who was The Bachelor, and then on DWTS and now Worst Celebrity Chefs on Food Network.
But here! Here was a show where the contestants got to *go home* during the week. They got to *practice* to their hearts contest for two out of three challenges, in their own kitchens! They got to bring things from home–molds, ingredients, you name it. They got to live their lives and be on a reality show. It was revolutionary. And apparently the gentleness and humanity of the format is a hit. Not only is it the biggest reality show in the BBC currently after Strictly Come Dancing, but PBS, which imported it starting this past spring has also found a hit with it. They call it The Great British Baking Show, and for some reason started with Series 5 and then went backwards to Series 4 this fall. (Let me tell you watching the PBS airing back to back with BBC1’s Series 6 was an exercise in watching Sue’s hair progress and regress in a 24 hour period. Mel remains blessedly constant.)
Now ABC is also trying to get into the Bake Off game, by importing Mary Berry, one of the two judges who make the show tick, for a four episode run this holiday season. (Sorry Paul Hollywood. I suppose they thing your appeal doesn’t translate.)
According to Deadline:
Based on the hit UK series The Great British Bake Off and hosted by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and husband Ian Gomez (Cougar Town), the four-episode The Great Holiday Baking Show stars some of the nation’s best amateur bakers as they compete in a series of themed challenges and eliminations all hoping to be crowned Holiday Baking Champion. For four weeks, James Beard Award-Winning pastry chef and author, Johnny Iuzzini, joins England’s “Royal Queen of Baking,” author and television personality Mary Berry, as they judge the decadent and delicious holiday fare these bakers create as they throw down their best culinary skills.
The hosts are unfortunate, since half the magic of the show is Sue and Mel and their rapport, and I have a hard time seeing these two filling that gap. Also, the humanity of the show needs to be preserved. Will the contestants be allowed to go home in between episode? Will they be allowed to practice? Will they be allowed to bring things from home? Most importantly, are they also importing the editors, who do such a bang up job making the emotional connection to the contestants so riveting? Without these things, ABC is merely trumpeting they are giving Mary Berry a paycheck, while they miss the point of the exercise. Not unlike this first half of The Muppets season, to be frank. (Though last night The Muppets ended with Kermit in a swamp and “The Rainbow Connection.” Perhaps they are learning.)