Will AI dream up future hit TV shows?

  • By Stephanie Power
  • Technology Reporter
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image source, Getty Images

image caption, Will AI be worse than Alan Partridge at coming up with ideas for TV shows?

Many of us of a certain age will remember the scene in Alan Partridge where he is trying to pitch a new series to a TV executive.

Further frustrated, the legendary British TV presenter suggested shows such as Inner City Sumo, Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubanks, and finally, Monkey Tennis. All were probably surprisingly rejected.

Partridge, played by comedian and actor Steve Coogan, would have had better luck if he'd let an artificial intelligence (AI) computer system pick up ideas.

It may seem like a wildly fanciful idea at first, but several TV production companies have already announced that they are using AI to help dream up new programs.

Meanwhile, Benjay, which makes Deal or No Deal and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, now has a fund to back AI-generated content. Announcing this last year, he said: “Although human creativity will always prevail, it is important to work with the tools that are available to contribute to the future of terrestrial entertainment. “

While neither firm has yet unveiled a new TV series whose idea came from an AI system, I decided to put one to the test.

So I logged into an AI chatbot, and typed in what I was looking for. I wrote: “I'm trying to think of a new TV format. A series with contestants.

“Maybe they're learning a new skill, like dancing, or maybe they're trying to compete in communities for the most sustainable environment. Can you help me with some ideas?”

AI confirms that this can be an interesting endeavor. And immediately comes up with six ideas.

I like his first proposal – Skills Mastery Showdown – where contestants are paired with skilled teachers, and have a specific new skill to master, such as dancing, cooking or painting. There will be limited time.

image caption, AI suggested a TV show where people had to learn a new skill such as painting

But what do TV industry experts think about the use of AI in coming up with future content? I ask Dan Whitehead, senior consultant at K7 Media, a Manchester-based research firm that reports on the TV business.

“The idea of ​​a machine that you can type a request into in normal conversational language, and it spits out something close to what you asked for, still feels pretty magical,” he says. “So it's understandable that people are drawn to it.

“Something like this could happen. [AI chatbot] ChatGPT Generates Ideas for a TV Show? Sure, but then there's never been a shortage of ideas for TV shows. The big problem for most production companies is uncertainty – which ideas are the best, which ones are worth investing in?”

Mr Whitehead argues that AI can give people false confidence, making them feel that if it – with access to billions of data points – can come up with these ideas, it must somehow be better. .

image source, Dan Whitehead

image caption, Ideas for decent TV shows need a left-field, human spark, says Dan Whitehead.

I look back at the Skills Mastery Showdown. Maybe it's not modern after all. Mr Whitehead says AI is used in a much more nuanced, backstage way.

“The BBC's Springwatch and Winterwatch use a bespoke AI system that monitors live camera feeds, and has been trained to recognize, record and log different types of animals and birds as they come into frame. Let's see,” he says. “It can then tell the production team how often they appear, give behavioral insights, and generally do something that eats up hours of human production time.”

Elaine van der Velden, founder and chief executive of London-based TV production firm Particle 6, is more positive about using AI to help come up with ideas for new programs and scriptwriting.

She says she recently had two versions of the script ready for the client, one edited by humans, and the other by Chat GPT. “We gave them both versions, and they preferred ChatGPT,” she says.

image source, Elaine van der Velden

image caption, Elaine van der Velden says it won't be long before an AI-produced TV show is ready.

It's not like she tells customers that AI might be involved. “I won't even tell people we're using it anymore. There's no need.”

Ms van der Velden adds that she wants her producers to know how to use AI to help them do their jobs. “[Otherwise] It's like someone who doesn't know how Microsoft Word works,” she says. “It speeds everything up.”

She also says that AI isn't going to replace jobs in TV, or at least not all of them. “It's like when accountants thought they'd be out of a job with the advent of Excel.

“You still need a creative director, but this is a tool that programmers should use. It will enable us to reach the next level of our full potential.”

I still want to see if AI can help me create a hit TV show. How about a drama series instead?

Mr. Whitehead reminds me that AI is not human, it will never respond emotionally to any request or gesture I give it.

Undaunted, I asked my AI chatbot for ideas for a new TV show about a post office scandal. It is back with a six-part series called “Broken Trust,” which will combine elements of drama and documentary to “engage viewers emotionally, while providing factual insight into the larger issues in the drama.”

Mr Whitehead was not impressed, describing it as “as detailed a program on the subject as I can imagine”.

He added that ITV's hit show on the subject – Mr Bates v The Post Office – was not even dreamed up by AI.

“For him to see the human story of human beings, he needed to trust that there was an interest in that story,” says Mr. Whitehead. “No algorithm would have ever predicted that Christmas 2023 would be one of the biggest shows, yet here we are.

“In fact, most of the big hit shows — scripted and unscripted — came about because someone punted on a left-field idea or an unlikely combination of ideas that no one was sure would work. I don't think AI has ever will also replicate this essential random spark.”

However, Ms van der Velden believes this will happen soon. “AI helps us with scripts, titles for children's shows… The only thing it hasn't done yet is come up with a great TV format – like Traitors. But it will.” Just give it six months.”

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