Celebs in t'Street: Do novelty castings work?
Hello and welcome to what is not a Wednesday review and my first non-review article.
Recently, there has been a stream of castings within popular dramas, soaps and animated series in order to boost ratings. The value of star casting is extremely debatable. What started as an American trend in shows like The Simpsons and Glee, the idea of casting celebrities in order to entice viewers has seeped its way across the pond and flooded the Street, The main focus of this article is the issue of 'stunt casting'. Here is the general definition of that term:
"The practice of casting a famous actor or a celebrity in a role in order to publicise or promote a television programme, film or play"
Many famous faces have graced the cobbles over the years. For example, Sir Ian McKellen played conman Mel Hutchwright/ Lionel Hipkiss in 2005 and Sue Johnston played busybody Gloria Price between 2011 and 2014, albeit whilst wearing an odd grey wig. This is not to suggest that star names should not be cast if they are suited to the role. They have studied, worked hard and learned their craft to achieve their celebrity status.
However, in 2015 alone, there were three very highly publicised incidents of stunt casting. The audience was subjected to the acting styles of popstar Sarah Harding as Robert's vengeful wife, Joni, who tried and spectacularly failed to be a match for Tracy Barlow. Soon after that, comedian Paddy McGuinness turned up as a wildlife expert, in what was a highly publicised comedy storyline. Only a few episodes later, Michelle's relative Aidan Connor arrived, played by 2005 X Factor winner Shayne Ward. That means that two former reality TV popstars are now in the Connor clan.
Fans of Coronation Street are intelligent enough to realise when someone has been shoe-horned in in an ill-conceived idea to win ratings. The embarrassingly brief appearance of Sarah Harding caused a stir amongst viewers. Although she received a negative press, the programme was still discussed at length, which could be considered good publicity. However, had someone else been cast as Joni, the character may have gone a lot further. Given that Ms Harding did not even audition, it appeared to be an unfair, unnecessary and ultimately unsuccessful ploy for more viewers.
It was reported at the end of 2014 that Corrie’s viewing figures had reached an all - time low of 4.9m. Many have attributed this to the departure of Tina, who was likely to have brought in a lot of heterosexual male viewers. Michelle Keegan was a complete unknown when she was cast. She has, like Pat Phoenix and many others become famous because of the Street, and has launched a successful career since leaving as herself.
Back in 1987, 26m people tuned in on Christmas Day to watch the bittersweet departure of Street icon, Hilda Ogden. They were tuning in to say goodbye to a character which they, as a nation, had taken into their hearts, lovingly created by Jean Alexander. Of course, this was back in 1987, a long time ago in terms of television, when people had to watch a programme as it aired or simply miss it but given that Hilda Ogden was voted the greatest soap character ever in a Radio Times poll in 2004, the sentimentality still stands.
Neither Jean Alexander nor Michelle Keegan were stunt castings and they both benefited the show greatly.
All forms of entertainment work on a suspension of disbelief. To enjoy anything, we have to accept what is on screen as real and not a series of moving images. It is sometimes hard to admit that Corrie is in fact a work of fiction. It is a reflection of the world we currently live in, It often relies on popular culture references to help the audience relate to it, which is why it is frustrating when, for example, a reference to Girls Aloud is made and then an apparent double of one of the members turns up and nothing is mentioned. Girls Aloud exist in that universe - the factory girls memorably belted out a rendition of 'The Promise'. This makes the suspension of disbelief significantly harder.
It could be that the Street has had such a long life because of the characters. The viewers invest in them because they feel like they know them. In 1960, every street had an Ena, an Elsie or an Annie. The Street probably would not have worked had they cast a superstar such as Elizabeth Taylor as Elsie Tanner. Coronation Street made Pat Phoenix into an icon. She was Elsie and Elsie was Pat. People believed Elsie was real. Fast forward to today and any long-serving character is known largely in real life by their character name to the public. Barbara Knox is known and referred to as Rita, Helen Worth as Gail and Sally Dynevor as Sally (see what I did there?). This re-enforces the aforementioned point that it is the character the public become attached to, not the actor.
Now, reverse that and most Hollywood actors are often known by their real name to the public in any film they star in. Their character names are frequently forgotten. Brad Pitt is often referred to as Brad Pitt by viewers in any film he stars in, and the same usually applies to actors such as Meryl Streep or Leonardo DiCaprio.
Research for this article has shown that personal opinions are mixed. Some people enjoy seeing familiar faces in the very familiar street but most find it difficult to separate the celebrity from the character, since the celebrity is already well known to them as someone other than their character. Some think that it takes what is a potentially a very good career opportunity from unknown actors. There are thousands of trained actors out there who studied for years only to end up pulling pints in a real pub.
Overall, the general consensus between people of all ages is that celebrity casting is a negative thing.
A celebrity must convincingly separate themselves from their real-life counterparts. Corrie is about down-to-earth, relatable people. That was its original charm. In terms of viewers, Corrie is still the top-rated soap, but still significantly less than it was two decades ago. This, however, begs another question. Has modern technology of catch up and Sky+ got in the way, or have people just lost interest in Soapland?
So - do novelty castings work? I don't think so. A celebrity may still be cast but only if they are right for the role, in which case it would not be a novelty casting.
Thank you for reading my non-review post. This is an interesting topic and I look forward to hearing opinions.
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