Channel 4 hit show Gogglebox goes global

Series showing sofa-bound viewers watching television is now being made in China, the US and the Ukraine

It is unlikely TV gold – a programme featuring sofa-bound families talking about what they are watching on television – but Channel 4's Gogglebox is about to go global.

Gogglebox is like a real-life Royle Family: its contributors, almost entirely immobile, pass judgment on the week's news and entertainment programmes. But what some saw as the final scraping of the reality TV barrel has built an audience of two million viewers.

Alongside the barbed comments about what they are watching, it is a glimpse into family life and the way we live now. Which, it turns out, mostly involves watching TV (an average of 28 hours a week).

David Glover, Channel 4's head of specialist factual who commissioned the show, said: "It's very funny, and there is a real warmth. People tend to watch TV with the people they love; you end up in quite a warm space."

The show, which comes to the end of its second series on Wednesday night, is now being remade in China, the US and the Ukraine, and will return on Channel 4 for a third run next spring – most likely in a new, high-profile slot.

It is one of Channel 4's most tweeted-about shows and was a bright spot in a difficult year for the broadcaster, which saw its audience share slump faster than any of the five other main channels.

Gogglebox is made by Studio Lambert, a firm headed by Stephen Lambert – whose previous credits include Wife Swap and Faking It. Its Royle Family heritage was reflected in its choice of narrator, first Caroline Aherne and later Craig Cash.

"It's an observational documentary series but if anything it's more in the vein of shows like That Was The Week That Was or Have I Got News For You," said Lambert."From the beginning we wanted it to be a show that would make people laugh, a humorous commentary on what's been going on that week. Some of the most interesting stuff has come from people watching the news."

The show features about a dozen families who are filmed watching TV during the week, with more than 100 hours of footage edited into a 45-minute programme. Ben Preston, editor of Radio Times, said: "It's hypnotic and addictive television, like three-dimensional Twitter."

Viewers' respones to everything from the Match of the Day tune and Russell Brand's appearance on Newsnight to the death of Nelson Mandela have been featured. In an era of "scripted reality" shows such as ITV2's The Only Way Is Essex, it raised suspicions in some quarters that the participants' responses were part-scripted, or at least prompted.

"If only they knew what pains we go to ensure it is as natural and real as possible," said executive producer, Tania Alexander, who set out casting the show not to include anyone who she could "imagine in the queue for Big Brother".

"Their reactions are absolutely real," she added. "The moment you try to produce it, or ask them what they think of something, it looks dry and hammy. You have to capture the real moments."

It is not entirely unstructured – the families are told what to watch and kept free of interruptions. And while Gogglebox viewers flock to Twitter, its participants are rarely seen looking at a mobile or tablet.

A similar ITV show in the 80s was revelatory in showing how little TV people actually watched, with viewers wandering in and out of rooms, permanently distracted.

Stephanie Parker, a B&B owner from Kent who appears in the programme with her husband Dom (the so-called "posh pair"), said: "We do think out loud more than we would normally because it makes you have quite an interesting debate. It also gives us a bit of uninterrupted viewing – normally we are charging about or have children or people at the door – because we have to concentrate. It's like a date night with my husband – we have to sit and talk to each other."

• This article was amended on 18 December 2013 to make clear that families watch an average of 28 hours television a week, not 21 as was originally stated.


John Plunkett

The GuardianTramp

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