It’s the latest reality show to make waves on ITV, and it has already created ripples in the pool of prime-time Saturday-night telly. Splash! places Olympic diver Tom Daley in a mentor role to 15 celebrities as they compete in a Strictly-style diving competition. The show seems to be pulling in both viewers and a swathe of scathing reviews. So can Splash! be considered a success, or is ITV plumbing the depths?
The coveted Saturday night slot is usually reserved for the top reality show du jour. Previous prime-time shows like I’m a Celebrity…, Strictly Come Dancing, The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice have set expectations high, with millions of viewers tuning in each week for a fix of throwaway entertainment. Although the first episode of Splash! snagged an impressive average of 5.3 million viewers, it also spawned reams of negative reviews and blog posts slamming the show.
The Mirror referred to the 90-minute programme as “water torture” and called it a “cynical slice of rancid opportunism” – strong words for a paper that has continued to publish coverage of the show as it unfolds each week, printing regular news pieces about Splash! and its cast of C-list celebs. If readers are still clicking on headlines linked to the programme and viewers are tuning in each week despite the flood of bad press, it seems fair to say that Splash! may be something of a hit, rather than a belly flop.
Viewing figures may be undeniably good, but whether Splash! is top-quality viewing or just another excuse to ogle celebs in the latest swimwear remains to be seen. British Swimming chief executive David Sparkes sides with the critics, claiming that 18-year-old Tom Daley is squandering his talent on sponsorship deals and media opportunities. “He should look at the example of skaters Torvill and Dean who waited until the end of their competitive careers before doing such programmes,” he elaborated. “I’m concerned Tom is putting the cart before the horse and I’ve expressed those concerns to his agent.”
Debbie Daley, Tom’s mother, has fiercely defended both the merits of Splash! and Tom’s role in the programme, stating in an open letter to David Sparkes that “it promotes a key sport” and that “a lot of grandparents, mums, teenagers and kids loved it”.
Perhaps Debbie Daley has underlined an interesting reason as to why the high viewing figures for Splash! should be celebrated instead of questioned. In the same way that Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity inspired increased public interest in street dance, or Strictly boosted ballroom dancing as a mainstream hobby, might Splash! in fact represent a positive way forward for reality shows? Perhaps it’s time we saw fewer celebs eating live bugs on TV and more of them inspiring and motivating Britain to get active….