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Sunday 30 August 2015

Celebs in t'Street: Do Novelty Castings Work?

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.


Twitter- @JordanLloyd39

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Llifon said...

Great first non-review blog post Jordan!

I totally agree. The true Corrie greats are the unknown actors before their Corrie debut.

I also believe that a growing trend in recent years is soap jumping which also shows lack of investment and imagination.

They are also as well-known to viewers. Be it Cindy from Eastenders or Sinbad from Brookside.

In the last 10 years or so, the best new Corrie characters are Tina, Becky, Beth, Craig and Carla and not one of them known before.

Unknown said...

Aidan (Shayne Ward) is not a relative of Carla's, he's a relative of Michelle, their cousins, as Carla was married into the Connor family by marrying Michelle's eldest brother Paul.
I also feel that some well - known people who come into the show can end up doing well, however some don't.

Stephen said...

I couldn't agree more with this article. As an Englishman living in America, I have no idea who Sarah Harding is, but I could tell that she couldn't act for toffee. Mercifully, she lasted for only a few episodes. I have no idea who Paddy McGuinness is, because I wouldn't touch X Factor with a barge pole, but he was a delight as the outward-bound chappie.

Also, I'd never heard of Kym Marsh before someone mentioned that she used to sing in some plastic, instantly ignorable record-company-puppet aggregation. But it matters not, as she is great as Michelle, even when she's being an utter shrew to the sublime Steve McDonald.

Unknown actors and actresses are best for such a show, so that we'll believe in their characters. Stunt casting is stunt casting, and it'll only work if the character is believable. Corra should be great drama but also great fun, and Mr McGuinness was the latter, so that bit of stunt casting worked. A bit of taste and discretion on the part of the casting dept goes a long way.

Rebecca said...

The stunt casting doesn't really work over here (Canada). In the whole list of guest stars you listed, the only one I've heard of is Ian McKellan. Honestly I think he's the only one I've seen that actually worked. I never would have known that the woman who played Joni was a celebrity if I had not seen it on the blog although I would have guessed that she was not an experienced actress. I think Corrie is at its best when they cast strong actors whether they are recognizable or not on either side of the pond.

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis, Jordan. I look forward to more of your posts.

Rose Field said...

Years ago acTORS wouldn't want to be seen dead in a soap as they call them these days, would have been waaaay beneath them dahling, but these days like voice overs for ads, all kinds of celebs are clamorouring for now seen to be cool roles in a soap. That is fine by me if its just a cameo and most importantly they CAN ACT!

Who remembers Keith Duffy as Kieran a few years ago who always seemed to be reading from a cue card and Sarah Harding's debut was totally cringemaking yet Paddy McGuiness and so far Shane Ward have been very good. Who can forget the marvellous Mel Hutchwright as well and even Peter Kaye who made a short comic appearance.

Unknown said...

Ah yes, of course. My mistake! I've changed it now. Thanks for pointing that out :) x

Anonymous said...

Craig Charles was already very well known before being in Corrie and has maintained a seperate career while on the show which is unusual. Yet despite that he's worked very well as Lloyd and has been popular with viewers.

Tvor said...

Stunt casting of someone well known seems to work better when it's a comedy role, don't you think? All of the ones you've mentioned that worked were that. But having said that, casting well known actors from other soaps or shows can work too. As the above poster said, Craig Charles is a very good case in point. I think that while an actor may be well known for a particular part, they will grow into the new one if the part is good and well written. Another good short term role by a well known actor was Andrew Sachs playing Ramsay Cole.

Sue Johnston was a victim of poor characterization I think. And I think she got caught up in the STella backlash. Michelle Collins might have been ok if she hadn't be chucked into the Rovers in a prominent role right away and shoved into every conceivable storyline. If she'd just came on as Leanne's mother, with all that baggage, and was developed slowly, people probably wouldn't have been so against her.

While the Sarah Harding casting was horribly wrong footed, Sarah herself seems to have put a pragmatic face on it all and moved on. Good for her. It couldn't have been easy to face all that negativity.

I don't mind celebrity casting. I"m willing to give them a chance and see what the producers and writers do with the character.

Anonymous said...

The only factor is - can they act? Corrie have always done this down the years - Norman Wisdom, Les Dennis, Robin Askwith, Stephanie Beacham, Bernard Cribbens, Roy Barraclough, Rula Lenska, Timothy West - the list goes on of people well known for other roles before they went into Coronation St. But they could/can act.

Anonymous said...

Personally I wish tptb would stop ringing characters in all the time whether they are known or unknown. Not a week seems to go by nowadays without a fanfare of a new cast member being heralded. Lets invest in the characters we already have. - Micky

John from Corriepedia said...

Can someone please tell me which episode of Coronation Street gained only 4.9 million viewers? I'm blowed if I know which one it was.

Unknown said...

John from Corriepedia-

John from Corriepedia said...

According to BARB, that episode got 5.25m


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