Must the Swedish show go on?

Must the Swedish show go on?
A visit to the ever-popular Swedish sing-along show Allsång på Skansen causes German reporter Steffen Daniel Meyer to note that Swedes, just like Germans, cling to a dated family show, and wonder if trying to please everyone results in pleasing no one?

The man with the white hair is probably around 70, but he still puts his hands in the air and grooves along with Swedish rapper Petter. Next to him a boy, maybe 16 and sporting a baseball cap, nods his head to the rhythm. A TV camera looms above them, capturing and broadcasting this picture of inter-generational unity to millions of Swedish living rooms.

But does that unity still exists in today’s individualistic Swedish society – a society that is no longer homogeneous?

Allsång began as a small music festival in 1935, but in the eighties it started to transform in a much-hyped television show, pulling in up to two million viewers per episode.

This popularity made sense in the eighties. Back then, most families had one television set in the living room, which meant that in the evening everyone gathered in front of it and decided what to watch – together.

Before the multi-channel age, the choice of programme would come down to the lowest common denominator: what simultaneously pleases grandpa and the easily-bored teenage son.

Today, everyone in the family owns their own TV, their own computer, their own smartphone, their own tablet – yet somehow Allsång retains its allure. The telly no longer functions as a family hearth: streaming online means everyone can choose something they actually want to watch. Despite this, Allsång, which this year wrapped up on Wednesday night, keeps chugging along.

Perhaps, though, catering to the lowest common denominator is the secret to Allsång’s success. It exudes niceness. The point of Allsång is to bring young and old together, creating a last resort of harmony where no differences exist. A show, fallen out of time, clinging to remnants of TV past.

But even the seemingly unchanging world of Allsång has to make some concessions to the modern world. Two years ago the actor, comedian and songwriter Anders Lundin, 57, was replaced by 27-year-old former Swedish Idol competitor and dashing poster boy Måns Zelmerlöw, who was supposed to attract the younger audience.

Replacing old faces with new is not a uniquely Swedish concept. In fact, for a German there are quite a few things about Allsång that feel familiar. Not only do we Germans still idolize the united family in a time of high divorce rates, but our TV producers know the cross-generational attraction of a fine-looking show host, who smiles and asks harmless questions.

Our big family show is “Wetten, dass…?”, and it was hosted until 2012 by Thomas Gottschalk, 63, a veteran entertainer and actor. He was famous, or infamous, for his inappropriate jokes, his exaggerated body contact (especially with female guests), and his notorious habit of running over the broadcast schedule. He could not only get away with his unconventional style – it became what people loved about him. It was just Gottschalk.

But after comedian Hape Kerkeling turned down the offer of succeeding Gottschalk , someone entered the stage who was once described by US actor Tom Hanks as “a greasy banker he could not trust”. The name: Markus Lanz. A 44-year-old – older than Måns, but positively youthful by the standards of German public television. Lanz is the ever-smiling TV presenter who is supposed to attract a younger audience. Sound familiar?

Gottschalk and Lundin, both middle-aged men with a certain brand of humour, were followed by two youngsters, who look nice, have a nice smile and ask nice questions – but nothing more. They are nice. No sharp edges, never provocative. Zelmerlöw and Lanz are perfect for shows that want to appeal to everyone, because in today’s society with a huge variety of media and subcultures, where everyone finds their own consumer space, the lowest common denominator is just that: a bland sort of niceness.

But in the world of TV as in teenage love, nice and unprovocative will rarely excite passion. Both Allsång and “Wetten, dass…” have experienced this. The German show saw viewer numbers drop from 12 million to 6.5 million after Gottschalk left; in Sweden, while reviewers and die-hards have loved Zelmerlöw, he has never matched Lundin’s (and the show’s) 2007 record, when 2.2 million people watched Allsång.

There is a problem with this “rejuvenation” of classic family shows. Shows and their hosts try to please everyone, but please no one in the end. They are just nice. And as every girl knows the difference between a nice guy and a boring guy is paper thin.

Steffen Daniel Meyer

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