Ready for a big... two weeks on Ch9...

The first casualty of the 2012 ratings season – even before it starts – will forever be noted as Channel 9’s foray into the reality weight loss genre with Excess Baggage. It’s an ignominious start for the network who were attempting to “own” 7pm by running the year entirely with stripped format reality: Baggage; season two of Celebrity Apprentice Australia; season five of The Block; and the granddaddy of them all, Big Brother. The only exception was to be during the network’s telecast of the 2012 London Olympics, and that’s a reality show in itself.

In the end though, Excess Baggage didn’t fail because it was an inferior product – it was foul play on the part of the Nine Network.

A high school media studies student could have pointed the network to the start of the 2011 ratings year, when My Kitchen Rules soundly thumped The Biggest Loser Australia every night they lined up against each other. Australians preferred seeing their reality contestants put on weight rather than lose it, and even though Loser picked up towards the end of it’s season (as it had for the five seasons before it) it still couldn’t compete with MKR.

When Loser started 3 weeks early in 2012 – a clever ploy by Ch10 to get the jump on their nearest commercial rival and reveal they’d be running their boom-bah show against Ch9’s – the ratings again indicated that the market was over the intensity, emotion and ritualised bastardisation of the early portion of Loser, and it sought refuge in other things (like the the Australian Open Tennis on Ch7). It should have been sign enough to Ch9 that perhaps rushing their new, as yet untested show forward to compete with a similar show that it would be a bad idea – even though Loser was on the wane it still had a significant fan base.

Excess Baggage, however, is no Loser clone. The focus is less on calories and 12 hour training sessions, and instead on a wholistic approach to helping the contestants – exercise, nutrition and mental health. There is no weekly weigh in; instead a check-in with the judges sees three key metrics in waist measurement, body fat percentage and a fitness score tabulated to ensure competition. Sure, there would be demons to be dealt with (the producers would be depending on it), but the mix of 8 general public contestants with 8 A/B/C/D/Z-grade celebrities makes for compelling viewing. There’s a heart that Loser doesn’t have, despite the focus on ‘Singles finding love once they’ve lost weight and found themselves’. The Baggage judges offer an empathy, sincerity & experience the Loser trainers simply don’t have.

The green line tells no lies

Rushing Baggage forward meant some corners had to be cut. The editing is, at times, appalling, and the narrative suffers for it. “He did this, quick piece to camera from this contestant, someone does something else, rush, rush, rush.” There’s very little real additional content on the Baggage website and that’s key. At the very least there should have been daily/weekly “confessional” segments from the contestants, or at least their pieces to camera in entirity – what we get in the episodes is very little and you can tell much more is being said that would add to the viewer experience.

The bus/bus shelter/billboard promotion for the show was demeaning to the contestants beyond what they should have expected. Sure, the Loser ads made the contestants look like they were in a weird dating show featuring naked trainers, but to have the celebs sitting atop a Nine logo “crushed” under their weight is base… even for a network that calls The Footy Show a comedy/light-entertainment/sports-commentary show.

In the end, Channel 9 had no choice but to move Excess Baggage to a digital multi-channel. The network have invested far too much money in it as a local production for it to completely vanish. They’ve also pushed out far too much promotion for it to wrap up prematurely (like Ch10’s The Resort did many years ago), though we’re not hearing it talked about so much at the cricket nowadays. With the series to complete its broadcast schedule on GO!, little will be done to fix past wrongs and Excess Baggage will now not get the attention it deserves.

Excess Baggage – Mon-Thu 6:30pm, GO!.