Maggie Brown: TV producers will keep feeding dreams of hungry young viewers
There was a time when my daughters were small that bad-weather weekends were lived out against the background of the promise that the sun will shine tomorrow. They adored Annie, the 1982 film version, and the battles the feisty redhead played by Aileen Quinn won against the horrid Miss Hannigan. I know the soundtrack by heart. Nostalgia will drive me to the revival.
The video had such an effect that it helped lead the youngest into weekend stage school, holiday song and drama courses, and eventually a degree including drama. It also meant I witnessed all the tantrums, nerves and anxieties that accompany performances of everything from Beauty and the Beast to the inevitable Grease – dramas in themselves. Children fit naturally into musicals provided the plot is strong enough: think of The Sound of Music’s Von Trapp family choir.
And because child and teenage stars are inevitably new discoveries, they inspire the not-unjustifiable dream that talent can be spotted anywhere. This notion applies to television and Facebook video shorts, too. It underpins the broader appeal of The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice, and attempts to create girl and boy bands after the success of the Spice Girls. Singing is the most accessible art form, as football is to sport.
The most successful example recently in tapping this vein in fiction has arguably been Disney’s High School Musical. Designed in 2006 as a TV film set in a school in Salt Lake City, Utah, it grew into a trilogy, then a big-budget movie plus a bestselling album.
It was followed by the jolly Glee, a riposte to Disney by Fox, which set the show-choir TV drama in a midwest school. The first two series ran on Channel 4’s youth-oriented E4, but was snatched by Sky1 after two series, much to Channel 4’s annoyance.
Meanwhile, attempts to find new stars for musical revivals – BBC1’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do, then Grease is the Word for ITV – seem to have petered out.
Instead, E4 last year turned to Stage School, a low-budget reality soap that depicted the students and teachers of a performing arts academy in Bromley. It led to a petition calling for it to be dropped, but instead resulted in a commission for a second series after 400,000 young viewers tuned in.
My only surprise is that it took so long to happen. For those who are concerned about the standards it depicts, there is an obvious redress: invite the cameras in.
And take a look at The Voice Kids, currently running on ITV2, where coaches Will.i.am, Pixie Lott and McFly’s Danny Jones are overseeing some charming and talented children.
Producers so far have been careful to angle it as a family show. But whether any of this will lead to long-term fame remains to be seen.
After all, Aileen Quinn never again hit the heights of playing Annie in later life.