Celebrities and travel programmes

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Michael Palin

Did Mr Palin start the celebrity travel show?

Sue Murphy, the Head of Factual Entertainment for ITV, has said that viewers seemed to be getting bored with celebrities fronting television programmes.

It isn’t the first time that such comments have been made. Using celebrities for travel programmes and sending them up canals, around the world, to India, Vietnam, up or down Route 66 in the USA and a host of other places has been going on for decades.  The names of those fronting such programmes include anyone from Michael Palin, who must have seemed an odd choice at first but then turned out to be one of the most inspired, to Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood, Paul Merton, Davina McCall, Penelope Keith, Sue Perkins, Richard Ayoade and David Suchet to name just a handful. Some cookery programmes are really just tours around a country with a bit of cooking thrown in for good measure so chefs have turned out to be some of the biggest travel programme hosts.

Murphy hasn’t been alone in questioning celebrity use but is probably the most influential, because she will be looking at television ratings and comparing those to the cost of making the programmes. Newspaper and travel writers have made similar arguments but you could say that they have lost out to celebrities and might feel a pinch put out.  They don’t count but if Murphy says no, the genre might not have as many programmes made in the future.

Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, journalists like Cliff Michelmore and Judith Chalmers fronted magazine type travel shows. Film or television drama or comedy stars were rarely used. Today the pulling power of a celebrity and their Twitter or Facebook followers is likely to be more important. How knowledgeable are the celebrities? It is unlikely that they will have written the words they mouth. Is it a writer, a travel writer or the destinations anxious that somewhere should be plugged?

For tourist destinations, the celebrity is worth press releases in abundance before and during the making of the programme(s) and, generally, greater numbers after the release of the programme. To them it’s a no-brainer and they will bend over backwards to get a television crew and “star.”

But travellers might feel cheated. They are unlikely to get similar facilities, access and everything smoothed out so that the trip goes seamlessly. Do they realise this? Do they care?

If Murphy’s views prevail and there are fewer travel programmes fronted by celebrities will destinations will be unwilling to give this little goldmine away. Just as Taylor Swift has been linked to campaigns to encourage people to visit New York with a sponsor agreement might not destinations decide to fund programme making and then sell them to terrestrial, satellite and internet channels?

The lure of the celebrity is too strong. Maybe the problem, sometimes Ms Murphy,  is the quality of the programming not the host.

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