X-Factor follows reality 'bible' religiously
On the eve of finding out who will win the latest X Factor, new insights into how tightly scripted the reality show really is have come to light.
Documents released under the Official Information Act reveal the show follows an Australian production "bible", which includes scripts for key aspects of the series.
Cantabrian contestant and top seven finalist Tom Batchelor has also spoken out, saying he felt uncomfortable with aspects of the show, including being told to mime playing his guitar.
He also said contestant's ability to choose their own songs was limited, with the producers having the final say.
A source involved with the show said that on-screen events were also often manipulated in post-production.
And while the prize package for the winner is touted as including a contract with Sony, documents released reveal that all 13 finalists are already signed to the company. A Sony spokesperson would not confirm the arrangement, saying such contractual information was confidential.
The existence of the production "bible" is outed in a MediaWorks producer report, dated May 14, which states: "We are continuing to follow the Fremantle Australia X Factor 2011 production bible. The bible includes scripts for key format aspects of the series. Other scripting for the live shows is being done by our senior story producer."
A FremantleMedia spokesperson said its "bible" contained the essential elements for the reality format which included plot, sample scripts, and the development of characters including contestants and judges.
MediaWorks spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer said the "bible" guidelines were invaluable. "Some of these must be followed absolutely, others are adapted for different territories."
She said the show was not scripted in its entirety. The judges were not given scripts, however "the producers talk to them during ad breaks", Lorimer said.
"Hours of footage are turned into video packages which play during the live shows. We have a fantastic story producer, Anna Lynch, who is responsible for scripting these. We also script Dominic Bowden's dialogue although he does ad lib live," she said.
Finalist Tom Batchelor said he never got to play with a live band, only to backing tracks. Those decisions were all up to the producers and he "didn't get much say".
"It's all about what it's going to look like on the show. The only time I played live guitar was on Whole Lotta Love. I had to mime the guitar part for Feeling Good and it made me feel disconnected."
He was not the only one. On YouTube there is a clip of Welsh group Manic Street Preachers miming their way through a soundcheck before a performance on the show.
Frontman James Dean Bradfield's guitar is there but he doesn't touch it.
Batchelor said he didn't feel he was portrayed accurately through song choices and that he and his judge mentor, Ruby Frost, would choose songs together only to have them dumped by show producers.
"The songs had to be cleared by production and they usually said no to my choices," Batchelor said. "Come Together and Whole Lotta Love were the only songs I wanted to do. It was weird. My choices were songs by Credence Clearwater Revival, Doors, Led Zeppelin but it was always ‘no, they wouldn't work well for the market'."
Producers would tell Batchelor "you should really be doing this song" in order to fit the format.
"I get that they're just interested in making a hit TV show and we'll be out the door at the end of the season but I didn't take it too well because it was weird not to be allowed to be myself."
He said as soon as he was eliminated he phoned his River Jesters bandmate and got straight back into recording and "being a real muso".
Lorimer said most of the production "had used backing tracks" but all vocals were live.
Producers having "input" into song choice was part of the show's format. Hosted by Dominic Bowden, with Melanie Blatt, Daniel Bedingfield, Stan Walker and Ruby Frost as the judging panel, The X Factor is the first local version of the format devised by music mogul Simon Cowell of SYCO Entertainment.
Lorimer said: "At this stage there's nothing we'd do differently."
The X Factor NZ is a SYCO-owned format and is co-produced by MediaWorks and FremantleMedia Australia.
NZ On Air is the minority funder and other sponsors are Ford New Zealand, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Samsung.
New Zealand On Air awarded the MediaWorks' programme $1.6 million in taxpayer funds, with revenue earners including "text revenue, touring, digital deals with music providers such as iTunes" as well as product placement.
Jane Wrightson, chief executive of NZ On Air, said that MediaWorks being in receivership had not affected its involvement "at this stage" and said it would be willing to look at offering reduced funding towards a second season of the show.
Auckland-based company Lateral Profiles, under contract to MediaWorks, manages the voting aspect of The X Factor.
Lorimer said the way votes are calculated is confidential.
"Hundreds of thousands of votes have been cast. We don't give further details of breakdowns."
Sunday Star Times