The Big Creative TV Challenge

Have you ever noticed quite how many 'creative' programmes there are on TV? In my opinion, it's a lot. And I think that's a fantastic thing!

On a brief inspection of the Radio Times, on any given week on just the main four channels, you'll find a selection that looks a little like this - Money for Nothing, The Great Interior Design Challenge (repeats), Homes Under the Hammer, Bargain Hunt, The Hairy Bikers' Comfort Food, Mary Berry Everyday, Chopping Block, The Secret Chef, Couples Come Dine with Me, DIY SOS, Building Dream Homes, George Clark's Amazing Spaces, Grand Designs, Saturday Kitchen, The House that £100k Built, BBC Young Dancer of the Year...

The list goes on, and that's before you've even started to look at all the digital channels dedicated to endless repeats and the 67th series of every cookery/home/interiors/fashion/craft/wedding/car restoration programme known to man.

In the earliest days of broadcasting, the BBC's mission was to 'inform, educate and entertain' (knew that degree in Film & TV would come in handy one day), but I think I'd also like to add 'inspire' to that list. All of these programmes, whether they are experts showing you what to do, members of the public competing for prizes, or any variation in between, there will likely be something, somewhere that catches your attention, sparks your imagination, or makes you wish you could do that too.

Some of my particular favourites recently have included The Big Painting Challenge (the final was a couple of weeks ago and some of the final artworks blew me away), The Great Pottery Throw Down (which inspired me to take a pottery course after the first series last year), The Great British Sewing Bee (obviously, but whether we're going to get another series still remains to be seen), The Big Allotment Challenge (oh yes, competitive flower and vegetable growing is a thing), and of course The Great British Bake Off (don't get me started...)

What it is about these programmes that I love, perhaps especially in this weekly competition format, is the fact that you get to see people from all walks of life sharing a passion and putting their own spin on it. Of course there are challenges set, and judging to be done according to required criteria, but it's often the people who go 'off piste' who are the most interesting, the rule breakers who inspire, and the underdog who goes on the biggest journey and succeeds. Plus there is the fact that because these are 'normal' people there is the implied sense that if they can do it, anyone can - whip up a batch of cupcakes for the school fete? No problem! Construct a fully-functioning toilet out of clay? Why not! 

The other type of creative programme I enjoy are some of the expert-led ones. My favourite Friday nights are the ones during the spring and summer when I can sit down to watch Monty Don on Gardeners' World planting seeds, cutting flowers, explaining the best growing conditions for certain vegetables, and then look forward to getting out into my own garden at the weekend to follow some of those tips for myself. Cookery shows like Mary Berry or the Hairy Bikers generally feature recipes that are eminently doable, and then a few that will be a stretch but give a huge sense of achievement when you manage to serve them to your family.

Some shows are maybe heading into purely aspirational territory - watching some of the competitors on Masterchef create stunningly complicated dishes is going to be beyond most of us, but is there perhaps a flavour combination you could try? And not all of us are going to be able to build our dream home from scratch on a secluded mountain-side using 100% eco-friendly materials and technologies - but maybe we can be inspired by the use made of a small space, or the layout of a room. 

And then there's Strictly Come Dancing. What a phenomenon that's become in the last decade. I believe that one of the strongest parts of its appeal is watching the learning process that the competing celebrities go through to get to performing a new routine every Saturday night. Yes, that journey is speeded up and has as much added jeopardy and heart-string-tugging emotion as they can muster to make it must-see TV, but if there wasn't that sense that if Anne Widdicombe can vaguely stomp her way through a waltz, then surely I should be able to learn a few steps too. And if the waiting list for classes at my local dance school is anything to go by every Christmas, then it's working. 

I've talked previously about my personal definition of creativity, and I think all of these TV programmes share the key elements - there are people experimenting, playing, and exploring different media or platforms in ways that let them express something about themselves, or take inspiration from their experiences to craft their own interpretations. Whether this is a nod to a past decade in interior design, using the landscape to guide the structure of a house, using ingredients from around the world in new combinations, choosing colours of fabric or paint that you love, or wearing a dance costume inspired by the film that the song you're dancing to is from, it's all creative. It's all a choice made in the moment to say something about who you are or what you're trying to express.

I'd even argue that natural history programmes now are moving more into this creative territory. Take David Attenborough's recent series Planet Earth II for example - there was much made of the style of narration to accompany various sequences in the show. Animals were anthropomorphised to an extent, they were given stories told through the voiceover, the camera work, and the music; choices made by the filmmakers to express their interpretation of events in the natural world because those baby marine iguanas can't really tell us how they felt about being chased by snakes (seriously though, look it up, and have the tissues handy!).

And then what about comedy - stand up, improvisation, panel shows? Or sports like rhythmic gymnastics, figure skating, or dressage? Children's television? You can see where I'm going with this.

Whether you watch TV to be purely informed about current affairs, educated about a new subject, or simply for entertainment, I think there will always be a little part of ourselves that is being inspired too. Maybe it's a small local news story that sparks an idea for a novel, or interest in the history of photography that sends you to the loft to find all the old family pictures, or your inner dancer/comedian/singer/artist waiting to come out, we will never be truly unaffected by what we watch. And if we're watching as many creative programmes as there are being broadcast right now, well I think we're in for a wave of creative self-expression that continues to grow and grow.

What are your favourite creative TV shows? What is it you love about them? Has a TV show ever inspired you to take up a new hobby or interest? Non-UK friends - what sort of creative shows do you have where you live? I'd love to hear your thoughts - do leave a comment below.