The Bake Off Formula – Cartoon Logic

Whether you like it or not, do not underestimate The Great British Bake Off. It’s been back for a month or so now, and back with a vengeance. There are few modern television programs with a ‘cultural impact’ section on their Wikipedia pages. Subsequently, there are few modern programs I can describe the cultural impact of so easily. Baking is big. Supermarket sales are up. The Women’s Institute has more members than any time since the 70s. Sixty percent of adults baked at home in 2013. All hail the soggy bottom.

I’m in the latter camp. Not the soggy bottom camp, the ‘not’ camp. I don’t like The Great British Bake Off. In fact, I don’t dislike it either. I just don’t care. It’s like the humble boiled potato. I’m aware of them. I’ve had them for dinner a few times. They are certainly edible. But otherwise, no. No thanks. If they disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow, I wouldn’t care. I probably wouldn’t notice. I’ve seen a few Bake Offs. I remain unmoved. That’s my position. Anyway.

It seems very formulaic. Not that that’s a criticism. In fact, its formulaic nature has allowed it to successfully transition to many, many countries, in both ‘original’ and ‘remade’ flavours. The format is simple and highly adaptable, like Blu-Tack, or Lib Dem policy. Take, for example, The Great British Sewing Bee on BBC Two. That’s almost exactly like GBBO, as gibbon-minded acronym fans call Bake Off. Then there’s The Big Painting Challenge and The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge, both BBC offerings. Even Channel 4 got into the act, with the Great British Hairdresser. These programs, however, have had varying levels of success. Why is that? Why does Hairdresser have 5.2 out of 10 on IMDB and GBBO 8.2?

I think there’s a formula at work here. Often, when there seems to be some pattern in nature, there is an, as of yet, undiscovered relation in action. An equation linking the elements and predicting the outcomes. And I think, with a bit of work, you could tease out this equation and apply it to find out why certain ‘Great British’ shows work, and others don’t, but, more importantly, which future formats might work, and which are destined to fail.

Guess what? I’ve done the thinking. I’ve crunched the numbers. And here it is. The Great British Bake Off Formula (‘recipe’ might be more appropriate). With this, I can predict the future, and rule the world (of amateur competition television).


Explanations. Let’s imagine you’re creating a new format for the Beeb. The variable ‘x’ is the predictor of your show’s success. Under normal circumstances, this variable will have a value ranging between zero and one; zero is a total flop, one is a success on the same level of GBBO. If you get a value higher than one, well, you might’ve just hit upon a variation on the Bake Off format that will one day eclipse its ancestor.

The numerator in the fraction (the complicated looking bit) is where you plug in all your data. From left to right: LSeries is the length of time that has passed since the show’s inception, measured in series. More series means that your show will have greater success. Bake Off started with an average of 2.8 million viewers. Now it has 10.1. Word spreads fast, and your show will build upon its success.

The variable H is the host factor, broken down into H1 and H2, a value for each host. Ideally, you want two. The hosts score highly if they’re comedians, especially if they’re a double act, but poorly if they’re unpopular or annoying, like bankers or Noel Edmonds. Only square H if you’ve got yourself a double act. That’s very important. Obviously, GBBO hosts Mel and Sue do very well.

The hosts are important, and of course, so are the judges. J is your judge factor. Again, you want two. Note the plus-or-minus symbol in between J1 and J2. You add the scores for your judges together if you’ve got one woman and one man, but subtract them if you’ve got two men or two women. They simply must be different genders (see GBBO, Sewing Bee, etc.). Once you’ve added the judge values together, multiply this number by that strange looking squiggle, which I call Fry’s Constant, but only if one (or both) of your judges are considered national treasures. Mary Berry does very well here. Add J to H and move on.

Perhaps most important are the three S variables. SA is the subject appeal factor. Baking does well, as it has wide appeal. It’s something we can all easily do. Most everyone has a kitchen, a bowl and a spoon, and that’s all you need, really. Something like fishing would do less well, while tile polishing, or competitive stapling might prove too boring. (Might? Ed.)

SV is the subject variation factor. You need to be able to have different ‘weeks’. Biscuit week, bread week, sponge week. If we consider competitive stapling again, once you’ve done staple gun week and long-armed stapler week, you’ve pretty much exhausted that format.

SP is the last variable, and probably the most important of all. Sp is the subject prettiness factor. You absolutely must have a subject that looks good. Baking is great. Cakes are colourful and delicious. You can watch a cake form before your very eyes. The Great British Fisher might not do as well, because catching and gutting fish isn’t very kind on the eye.

Finally, we’ve got Berry’s Number. Berry’s Number is the specific numerator for GBBO. It results in the very highest ‘x’ value you can currently get (one), given that GBBO is the most successful of all the amateur competition shows ever (so far).

So, other formats. What might do well? How about Great British Modern Artist, with Tracey Emin and Bansky judging? You could even have a different person stand in for Banksy each week. Or Great British Flower Arranger, presented by Mitchell and Webb? What about Great British Sandwich Maker, with Vic and Bob presenting and Paddington Bear as the judge? Imagine that!

Calculate the values. Pitch the shows. Rule the world.



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