‘The Great British Baking Show’ is the Most Influential Reality Show of the Last Decade
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When I put on Hulu‘s new series Baker’s Dozen recently, I was hit with an overwhelming sense of deja vu. Bubbly comic actress Tamera Mowry-Housley and famous executive chef Bill Yosses were pitting a group of bakers against each other in a sweet, pastel-colored, outdoor competition, complete with tent-like structures and oodles of feel-good moments. I wondered if I had somehow stumbled upon the American version of The Great British Baking Show, before remembering, ABC literally already has The Great American Baking Show. And the BBC its own all-too obvious Bake Off spin-off starring Mary Berry called Britain’s Best Home Cook.
The Great British Baking Show‘s influence on Food TV is so great that Netflix’s new architecturally-inclined baking show, Baking Impossible, boasts an alum — Andrew Smyth — as a host and judge. Nadiya Hussain, Chetna Makan, and Ruby Tandoh are just a few of the other Great British Baking Show standouts who have since found fame in the food world after their time spent in the tent.
However it’s not just baking competitions that have found inspiration in The Great British Baking Show‘s formula, talent or vibe. NBC’s crafting competition Making It, Netflix’s glass-blowing contest Blown Away, HBO Max’s The Great Pottery Throw Down, and even recent seasons of Bravo’s Project Runway and Top Chef clearly have cribbed from the international hit. (The latter two have demonstrated newfound swagger in recent seasons where the contestants support each other in a GBBS-esque way over the bitchy backstabbing of the show’s early years.)
Whether you love it or hate it, The Great British Baking Show might be the most influential reality show of the last decade. And no amount of new hosts, frustrating judging, or controversy can take that away from the series.
The Great British Baking Show first premiered in the UK (as The Great British Bake Off) in 2010 and about five years later, it popped up on American Anglophiles’ radar on PBS and streaming on Prime Video. The show’s civilized sensibility made it immediately stand out from other culinary competition shows. As I wrote six years ago: “Unlike a lot of shows in its genre, The Great British Baking Show doesn’t take place in a frightfully intimidating chef’s kitchen. Rather, it all goes down in a beautiful tent, replete with state-of-the art and pastel-colored kitchen supplies, in the middle of a gorgeous English garden…The contestants aren’t just here to win, they’re here, to, uh, actually make friends…Instead of the usual cutthroat backstabbing that we see on reality television, the contestants root for each other and pitch in when things go wrong.”
What seemed revolutionary in 2015 — that someone could make a baking competition show that was kind in nature and addictive because of its calming aesthetic — is almost cliché in 2021. The earliest imitators of the show’s success were relatively organically born. Love Productions, the team behind The Great British Baking Show, followed it up with The Great Pottery Throw Down and the (impossible to stream in the USA!!!!)* Great British Sewing Bee. Naturally, foreign versions of their hit soon spawned across the globe. When BBC declined to renew The Great British Baking Show, the series became a Channel 4/Netflix exclusive and the BBC launched what it hoped would be as endearing a successor, Britain’s Best Home Cook. (It’s…fine. Much better in Season 2, but hardly the slam dunk of the original.)
Soon, though, The Great British Baking Show‘s uber-popular feel-good energy was permeating nearly all of reality competitions. Masterchef Junior seemingly overtook the original’s place in the zeitgeist. The Food Network still pitted hard-boiled chefs against each other, but the likes of holiday-themed competitions and friendly cook offs like Beat Bobby Flay reigned supreme. Now it’s hard to watch any reality competition show and not see The Great British Baking Show‘s stamp somewhere in the mix. Drag Race might take us to the library, but the enduring stars seem to be friends. Making It is literally The Great British Baking Show, but crafts. The best part of Love Island or The Circle is watching the dumb hotties become…friends? Even obstacle course reality shows like The Floor is Lava doesn’t go as hard or mean as its concept allows.
Maybe we’ve become kinder as a culture, though as someone who lives on social media, I’m not sure that’s true. What is undeniable, though, is that The Great British Baking Show has had an enormous impact on how we see the world of reality TV. Once a genre built around gawking at people’s private lives or rewarding the most cutthroat personalities, reality TV is now full of shows that affirm our humanity. We expect contestants to help each other now and want the players to be friends when the cameras stop rolling. It’s natural to set a show in a tent. We see Great British Baking Show alums as experts in their craft.
That The Great British Baking Show‘s now ubiquitous gentleness was once an aberration on reality TV proves just how much the show has changed the game forever. That, and all the damn pastel benches in outdoor tents.
*As a new sewer, I am especially ornery about this!