Shame on you, Australia. On Sunday night, 1.65 million of you tuned in around the country to watch You’re Back in the Room, Channel Nine’s new comedy hypnosis show hosted by Daryl Somers. Yes, the show in which “ordinary Australians” are hypnotised to act out slightly embarrassing activities to win cash was the second most-watched show around the country.
You couldn’t help yourselves, could you? You just had to know.
For those who were lucky enough to miss out, the format is relatively simple: hypnotist Keith Barry hypnotises four contestants who participate in a series of challenges to win money. Of course, the major obstacle they have in achieving their goals is their hypnotic states.
For example, in one challenge they’re forced to collect balls which fall from above and deposit them in a bucket. But one of the contestants thinks the balls are all hot coals, while another believes they’re in slow motion. Another contestant is hypnotised to massage Derryn Hinch and another is hypnotised to believe they’re in love with Somers. Sounds potentially traumatic, right?
I’ll leave aside any discussion of the actual hypnosis, which has been criticised in the UK version of the show, and turn to the entertainment value of the show itself.
You’re Back in the Room has been slammed by critics and was subsequently slammed by a majority of viewers on social media (although there have been some positive responses).
Somers has always been a likeable presence if not much else, and he does exactly what you’d expect here. In many senses he’s the perfect host for the show — a completely non-threatening mediator used to working in potentially chaotic situations in front of a live audience. But those situations never evolve into anything remotely interesting.
The most baffling thing is not that You’re Back in the Room fails to do anything you want television to do. It’s not even the official hashtag Nine encouraged viewers to use — #9YBITR. The most baffling thing is that this show even made it to air to begin with.
Every year at least one of the major networks invests time and resources into a format which any reasonable viewer knows, sight unseen, will not succeed. I’m thinking of shows like Celebrity Splash, The Shire, Shane Warne’s chat show Warnie, or even the infamous celebrity weight loss show Excess Baggage.
These programs were all hopelessly gimmicky and, to most objective observers, were doomed to fail right from the start. There was no obvious dramatic momentum to sustain any of them (and yes, even the trashiest reality TV needs some kind of dramatic momentum to remain engaging). You can’t even call these shows calculated risks — honestly, what’s the best any of them could have been?
There’s a simple point the networks often seem to forget: if it looks like a flop and quacks like a flop, then it is probably a flop.
You’re Back in the Room rated brilliantly, almost beating Seven’s juggernaut cooking competition My Kitchen Rules. But let’s not forget that Celebrity Splash rated pretty well initially. So did the return of Hey Hey, It’s Saturday; even Ten’s Being Lara Bingle and The Shire weren’t total flops to start with.
I will be very surprised if You’re Back in the Room is still attracting more than a million metro viewers a month from now. Of course people tuned in to see how the format works — it’s new and a bit of an oddity — but the show is not particularly entertaining and relies on one gimmick that can’t possibly evolve in any meaningful way.
Maybe that’s all Nine was hoping for from this show — just a few weeks of decent ratings from curious viewers before axing the program. Or maybe they truly believe You’re Back in the Room has staying power. It’s difficult to know at this point.
I really hope my predictions about the show’s future are correct. I hope viewers start dropping off from next week and that Nine has seriously underestimated its audience’s intelligence. Who wants to live in a world where we’re really all that dumb?