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Formats Unpacked: Ça Commence Aujourd’hui
A format that unites unlikely people through conversation
Thanks for stopping by. It’s good to see you.
We’ve got a real treat for those of you curious about formats in a foreign language. It’s only the second one to feature here. I’d love to see more. Imagine how many incredible formats escape our attention because they’re not on our English-speaking radar. If you have a favorite foreign language format that needs unpacking get in touch. I’d love to hear more.
Doing the unpacking is our very own Patricia Yaker Ekall. Patricia is the writer and editorial lead for the Bellagio Bulletin, a newsletter and publication we produce for the Rockefeller Foundation. It’s a follow-up to the Red Table Talks piece she wrote in September.
Over to Patricia…
What’s it called?
Ça Commence Aujourd’hui, airing on France 2 - with reruns on YouTube.
What’s the format?
A talk show on which ordinary people recount extraordinary moments in their lives. Guided by a charming host, Faustine Bollaert, and an expert in the given theme, the guests share their experiences with audiences in the studio and at home.
These extraordinary lives - or outstanding moments within otherwise ordinary lives - often skew towards the dramatic or heart-wrenching. For example, there was one episode where a group of unrelated individuals shared their experiences of growing up with gangster parents. Another episode featured a barely adult and homeless young woman who took to social media to find financial support and connection. Apparently, her Instagram followers sponsored her short-term lets, food, and transport. From mysterious disappearances, and fleeing cults, to finding love after transitioning… The guests of Ça Commence Aujourd’hui have shared it all.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
Ça Commence Aujourd’hui provides a platform for the interior worlds of the everyday individual. So, unlike its talk show counterparts, an episode’s draw does not rely on a guest’s celebrity or talent. The setup asserts that your attention is merited by dint of being courted by your fellow human being. It’s simple, but it works: by the time Bollaert has shared a snappy synopsis of the upcoming program, you’ve already brewed a cup of tea and settled in.
The show attempts to anchor its themes on topical and urgent issues. Because if you’re going to gather tens of thousands of people around for storytime, you might as well help society in the process. Rarely have I come across an episode, read its title and thought “that’s a bit of me.” It’s more like “yes, Mme Bollaert, what is it like to work in a morgue, pay for University through escorting, or fall in love with a bandit?” One example of this hybrid storytelling model between wokeness and curiosity is from a 2019 episode on bisexuality.
Bollaert sat down with people who were happily in MOREs: Mixed Orientation Relationships. The guests shared the biphobia they constantly experience and discussed the parameters of what constitutes a loving relationship - each person’s take was nuanced from the previous. The audience discovered how a simple concept like love gets complicated by labels that, in turn, create the need to shield that love from prejudices, assumptions and hate. It showed, through the lives of people like you and me, how life can be as complex and fascinating as it is, at times, aggravating.
The one with the European aristocrats is a treat for the social scientists among us. The guests were composed of a princess and her daughters, a prince and an aristocratic lady without an official title. The show was well timed as it aired in 2018, at the height of Royal Fever, thanks to Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle.
The episode was interesting enough for the glimpse it provided into the structured lives of Europe’s titled minority. Imagine knowing six languages by the age of 15 and counting yourself among a network of 500 families - all of whom you know personally. Think of the names (and titles!) you’d have to remember… But what was most fascinating about this particular episode was how the hostess handled her guests: with a respectful indifference to their status and their rules of propriety.
Some might argue, however, that she took it a step too far. One can’t be sure of what in the vive-la-révolution got into Bollaert, but she put the two teen girls on the spot, wanting them to confess to misbehaviours on live television. The Princess-mother intervened. Needless to say, there was a bit of a power struggle between the celebrated of high society and those of the secular world. I must say, that the latter won - though all parties would be quick to tut at the crude notion of an unspoken competition.
Aristocrats are from a particular strand of society, and some might argue that they are too uniquely privileged to be featured on a show that celebrates the layman. Yet, that’s the thing about aristocrats: they are ordinary. Were it not for their titles and ceremonies, there would be no way of identifying them in public; be it at the theatre or in a supermarket. The episode succeeded in demonstrating that, whether by birth or marriage, their lives are indeed extraordinary. Yet, at the end of the day, they are everyday folk like you and me.
And this is the magic of Ça Commence Aujourd’hui: uniting unlikely people through conversation.
Do you have a favourite format that you want to unpack like Patricia? Just get in touch by replying to this email or leaving a comment below.
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Thanks for reading and see you all next time.