When Mr. Bates Takes on the Post Office: Unravelling TV Viewing and Publicity Trends

An opinion piece from Abbie Hughes, Head of Consumer, Fever:

The Post Office scandal isn’t a new story. But it has, in the last ten days, become a news story. Thanks to the (excellent) ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, what is considered one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Britain is well and truly in the spotlight.

Aside from the sheer scale of the wrongs inflicted (which is reason enough), what is it about the drama that has brought a story that’s already been the subject of a book, several documentaries, hundreds of news reports, and opinion pieces to the attention of so many? We’re inundated with ‘real life’ TV dramas, so why’s this particular show captured not only our attention but our anger?

Could 2024 be the year ‘appointment to view TV’ becomes ‘appointment to have a view TV?

In our homes and hometowns 

At its heart this is a story that is literally, close to home. The Post Office is as British as tea and biscuits or queuing. So not only do we understand the world this story is unfolding in, but for many we are IN the world it’s set. The closeness of a story that beams into our sitting rooms where we can see similar scenes outside our homes strikes a chord at our core. Proximity (in location and time) and familiarity means we are invested from the get go.

A study of spokespeople 

What makes this show so powerful is the duality of spokespeople that have been made available to press. Having stories told by the individuals it has happened to, coupled with talent who share their reaction to it happening (fictionally) to them takes away any sense of this being in ‘the past’ and removes our ability to separate the ‘dramatisation’ from the real story. We can’t separate Toby Jones playing Alan Bates from Alan Bates himself when we hear from and see both. This blurring of lines between real and acted lives means we are more likely to emotionally invest in the story as we don’t see actors, we see real people re-enacted.

‘Where are they now’ with poignancy  

Wanting to know what’s next is what keeps fictional dramas, soaps and the Marvel Universe going. And in the case of Mr Bates vs The Post Office we are finding out the reality of what happened next. The story is brought bang up to date with a look at the victims now, the rebuilding of lives (and tragically those that haven’t had the chance) again makes this an experience very close to our own lives. We see people in similar life stages to us, yet living through a horrendous experience. It’s a horror movie Sliding Doors for us at home.

Enemies we recognise 

If the victims are ‘us’, the enemies are equally recognisable, particularly the tech. A computer error (admittedly coupled with corporate and human incompetence) is something we can all imagine. And it’s particularly relevant as we grapple with a ‘new’ dominating technology, AI, and how it’s going to change our daily lives. This isn’t fear of the unknown, it’s fear of the known which so deeply resonates.

This masterclass in storytelling, both within the programme and its publicity strategy shows how much entertainment has the power to provoke and agitate. And that, when it comes to entertainment comms, appointment to have a view is as important to people right now as appointment to view. Which makes 2024 really exciting.


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