Bake Off gate: why the loss of Mel, Sue and Mary won’t affect the show’s appeal

It’s all kicking off in TV-land.

Loyal Bake Off fans are upset and worried about the future of their beloved show, as Mel, Sue and Mary Berry leave amidst the move to Channel 4, with only Paul Hollywood remaining.

The question on everyone’s minds is: can the Bake Off brand have the same appeal to viewers now that a lot of its main ingredients won’t be present?

The answer depends on what’s more important – the format or the presenters.

For Top Gear, it was unquestionably the latter. The series was a direct reflection of the presenters’ middle aged banter. When you take that out of the equation and replace them with other middle-aged people, it looks like people are doing an impression. It’s no wonder that without Clarkson, Hammond and May, the revamped show failed to appeal to audiences.

With Bake Off this isn’t necessarily the case. The programme is much more about the bakers than it is about the presenters. It’s the characters we see emerge over the course of the competition and the journey they go on, which often mirrors our own goals and ambitions as viewers. Watching someone on their knees peering into an oven is deeply compelling. And when you see that your favourite contestant’s lemon soufflé has come out ok, the relief is palpable.

While Mary, Sue and Mel are a great loss, they aren’t the only reason why people tune in on Wednesday nights.

The retention of Paul Hollywood is also hugely important. Without all of the presenters, the show would lack any continuation. As Jay Hunt, chief creative officer at Channel 4 puts it – Paul’s “wit, warmth and wisdom are vital ingredients to Bake Off’s success.” His presence will help viewers cope with the transition.

What the show’s producers and Channel 4 need to do now is a huge amount of reassuring. It needs to tell people that Bake Off is still the same show they’ve always loved. Next year’s series isn’t the time to trumpet big format changes or ‘innovations’. People will tune in out of curiosity when the show switches channels, but as long as it feels the same and there are characters they can identify with and root for, they will stick with it.

The format and the bakers are the most important ingredients in this particular bake. Yes, you’ll need gentle comedy support and another judge with Mary’s authority. And viewers will take some winning over. But if Channel 4 and the show’s producers take care of the format, choose their bakers with the same rigour as they currently do and don’t mess with the formula, Bake Off will be as tasty as ever.

Martin Flavin is a creative director at launch marketing specialists Five by Five.

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