How a 3 hour Dutch TV show gets people in front of the telly on summer evenings
This week we’ve our first format that is not in the English language. Hurrah! It’s a long format made for Dutch TV. We don’t see many long formats on TV in the UK outside of live event coverage, rolling news, or Saturday afternoon sports shows.
The unpacking comes from Petar Vujosevic - co-founder of GapJumpers, a company helping de-bias all manner of workplace decisions to create more equal opportunities for job applicants and employees.
Before that he worked in publishing and advertising as a strategist and has his own newsletter about tech, advertising and pop culture.
Over to Petar…
What is it called?
ZomerGasten which translates to ‘summer guests’. (TV Show)
What is the format?
Imagine something resembling a 3-4 hour Joe Rogan-like podcast, interwoven with video clips, and aired live on Dutch National TV channel VPRO (BBC 3 would be a good equivalent in the UK, PBS in the USA). That is ZomerGasten.
Zomergasten is aired in the summer (July/August). It was originally conceived in 1988 as a low budget evening filler during the downtime in TV land, when new content is being prepped for the fall season.
A guest and an interviewer sit in a studio and have a 1-1 conversation. The conversation is aided by television, cinema or internet video footage.
The footage serves as a tool to further understand the guest and the significance and impact of the chosen footage on their lives or lives in general.
Each episode takes up an entire Sunday evening, lasting typically three hours. And at the end of the evening the guest also picks a movie of their choice (keuzefilm) that is shown after the interview.
Where’s the Magic That Makes it Special?
If I had to boil the magic of the format down to a single proposition, it would be ‘on second thoughts’. Let me explain…
Imagine a humid lazy summer Sunday evening. Nothing on the telly so you kinda find yourself flipping over to see who the guest is on ZomerGasten.
Though you might not know the guest or think them interesting, you’ve got no place else to be so you hang about a bit. And then something happens. The intimacy or contentiousness of the interview, the (often) unknown/new footage and the stories behind their selection draw you in.
You would have never guessed that the Moroccan born Mayor of Rotterdam, would spend minutes dissecting one of Holland's most well-known evergreen songs, The Little Cafe in the Harbour, and use it as a tool to analyse Dutch mentality and societal habits.
Or, in my personal case, start disliking absurdist comedian Hans Teeuwen a lot less, after seeing him announce that he is a fan of the snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan by showing his 5 minute maximum break. I wouldn't have pegged him for a Ronnie fan, even if my life depended on it.
And before you know it 3 hours have passed and you’ve learned, laughed and left the episode with a fuller picture of that person while often discovering new things to like that you didn't know existed.
It’s the parent of much of current media consuming behaviour: ephemeral, long form interviews, surfing youtube clips to start at one topic and end up in a completely different spot through recommended rabbit holes. All rolled into one Dutchie.
One of my favourite moments is part of an interview with Felix Rottenberg. Felix was former Chair for the Dutch Labour party (think a nicer Alastair Campbell).
Here he reflects back on the politician Pim Fortyun, who was assassinated a few days after Felix interviewed him on his own local TV show.
In this clip he starts by giving a very analytical assessment of the charisma and power of Fortuyn.
But as the clip goes on, he drops the analysis and becomes more humane, humble and honest about the impact of Fortyun’s death. Even showing a bit of remorse for how prejudiced he acted as an interviewer in that last interview with the politician.
This clip made me, and still does, respect Felix Rottenberg a lot more. He, unlike other politicians, could separate his business and personal feelings and genuinely express how the death of Holland's most controversial politicians ever impacted him and our country.
Would he have gotten there without a visual aid? Who knows. Maybe.
But time and again, Zomergasten shows that having content to guide a conversation makes it richer, less defensive and ultimately more honest.
This American Life with Ira Glass
I would love to see a version of this on the BBC or Channel 4. I don’t think there are enough long formats on TV, which is a pity because digital formats have broken out of the 15 minutes, 30 minute, 60 minute, and 90 minute attention lengths we were served up by TV for decades.
Now formats as short as 6 second video clips, right through to extremely long live streams, are being watched by huge audiences. At Storythings we call this the Audience Attention Spectrum and use it with clients to help them shape their content strategy.
Thanks for reading today and a huge thank you to everyone who has been in touch with suggestions. I was thinking about some of the early YouTube formats that were short, simple, single idea formats such as Will It Blend. What other similar formats were you watching in the late noughties?
More unpacking next week. See you then.