Red Arrow International’s head of non-scripted, Harry Gamsu, discusses TV’s role in the health and well-being of an ageing population.
Social experiment formats always seem to garner the headlines. In taking a subject that is relevant and resonant, and digging deep to explore it from the inside, these shows can reveal much about the current state of our society and our values.
Often these formats offer a public platform for ongoing discussion, if not an open call to arms, alongside a more deeply personal and emotional journey.
A subject increasingly in the headlines is one of the most pressing social-economic issues facing the planet: our aging society. This very real social issue – how we manage and care for this growing group of the population – sits alongside the realisation that this experienced cohort still has a huge amount to contribute to society.
From an industry perspective, there’s also the question of how to entertain this significant demographic, something that TV execs are tackling with enthusiasm.
Older viewers present us with a golden opportunity to dust off and refresh older genres – just look at the return of classics such as Blind Date and The Generation Game in the UK and the impact they’ve made. It’s ideal family viewing for our growing, multi-generational households.
In addition, the older demographic, emerging as more vibrant, energised and engaged than ever before, are increasingly in front of the camera.
It’s a trend that can be tracked back to our format Benidorm Bastards (Off Their Rockers), which paved the way for old people taking over our screens. Now, we’re seeing older celebrities in NBC’s Better Late than Never, which is a local version of South Korean format Grandpas Over Flowers; Hotel Romantiek on Vier in Belgium tackling finding love in later life; and Twofour’s The Real Marigold Hotel tracking the lives of retirees in India.
At Red Arrow International, we work closely with our Red Arrow Entertainment Group production companies and independent producers to spot game-changing ideas early, and present them in advance of the show’s premiere to selected broadcast partners.
That’s what we did at MIPTV this year with new format Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds (OPHFFYO), and the response was phenomenal. Everyone we spoke to bought into the idea and it really seems to have resonated with broadcasters.
The format sets out to try and dramatically improve the health and well being of retirement communities by bringing elderly residents together with a group of four-year-old preschool children. Social isolation is one of the biggest problems facing elderly people living in care homes, with over 60% in the UK never having received a single visitor.
The experiment has had extraordinary results, demonstrating that there are very real mental and physical benefits, including increased confidence, to the older people. As a TV show, OPHFFYO proved there is an appetite for this kind of topical format that is emotional and life-affirming.
Speaking to Murray Boland from the show’s creator and producer, the Red Arrow-owned CPL Productions, the shoot was only six weeks, but testing the elderly people quickly started showing key areas of improvement. Eighty- per-cent of the older group increased their grip strength, 70% improved their depression score and two of our older group moved out of the frailty bracket – pretty spectacular results.
Murray also said they all have more confidence in walking. In fact, two of our volunteers were able to complete balance tests, whereas in week one they were too afraid to even attempt them, and most have increased their step count after the experiment. Together as a group they were walking over 3,916 steps a day, an increase of almost 9%.
For Channel 4 in the UK, it struck an immediate a chord and there has been an unprecedented response from press to viewers, with ratings 69% above the annual benchmark share.
It’s not a miracle cure, but the results are impressive. It’s very uplifting watching this group reclaim part of themselves from the restrictive burden of old age.
Could this ambitious experiment transform the way Britain and the rest of the world cares for its increasingly aging population? We certainly hope so.