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Talent Spotting: BGT versus The Voice

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After the sad death of Frank Carson, the TV schedules were rightly festooned with tribute shows and features to a genuine entertainment legend. But one of the surprising things that the retrospectives revealed was that Frank got a big break from Opportunity Knocks, the premier talent show of its day.

In these heady days where making jokes about Germans, black people or in-laws are mercifully frowned upon, it's hard to believe that a show as quaint and dowdy as Opportunity Knocks was such a success. Or maybe it's not, given the massive success of belled and whistled modern evolutions like Popstars, X-Factor and, limbering up for a new series, Britain's Got Talent.

BGT (or Strictly Come Dog Dancing, as it ought to be called) is not the sort of show I tend to watch, as for me it would make for a longer evening than a change in Daylight Savings Time. But, back it comes anyway, part blockbuster movie-level faux suspense, part Shakespearean court jester auditions, and this time with a slightly rejigged line-up, as this video of apparent national security importance indicates.

Joining Amanda "Christ, she used to be an actress didn't she?" Holden this year is prodigal bachelor uncle Simon Cowell, the Larry Grayson of the charity world David Walliams and Strictly defector Alesha Dixon, TV talent shows' answer to Carlos Tevez, who will benefit the show immensely. The one she's leaving, that is. And it's all tied together by the masters of morbid curiosity TV, Ant and Dec, who must be wondering if they'll ever get a proper bloody job.

Wildly popular though it may be, when you consider the star-making record of Opportunity Knocks (every style of act from comics to poets to one of pop music's most successful blind men and plenty more besides) compared to BGT, the old stager leaves it in the shade. Britain's Got Talent's strike rate is one thing but its ratings are quite another, and this week a newcomer gets all up in its grill: The Voice.

At its core The Voice is based around an ingenious idea, with judges/mentors turning their back on a singer from the get go rather than five minutes after they're eliminated from the show. If anything, in making a selling point of blind auditions The Voice are stealing Britain's Got Talent's clothes a bit, as prior to now BGT had the monopoly on not judging books by their covers what with the success of Susan Boyle or Paul Potts (although given the cruel Coliseum-style atmosphere of their auditions, the moral of the story seems to be it's OK to be mean to people if they aren't talented). In the judges stakes as well BGT seems thoroughly outclassed, with four peerless supremos in their field. There's King of moderate nice lad rock, The Script's Danny O'Donoghue; will.i.am, who is as popular as he is a bad speller and imbecilic lyrics writer; Jessie J, who as a singer and songwriter has already scored big hits for herself and others at an age you'd forgive her for still needing a mentor herself; and Tom Jones, who can make women spontaneously pregnant with a single performance. And it's all topped off by the impossible-to-dislike hosts Reggie Yeats and Lovely Holly Willoughby.

It may appear to be a bit of a slam dunk for the BBC's new effort, but Cowell is a wily character and has been drumming up controversy and publicity by any means necessary, most notably from a cynically clever pretend gay outrage, as well as a host of pre-match schedule jostling on ITV's part. One thing is certain: viewers will be switching on in their droves to see one or the other. But probably not as many as used to watch Opportunity Knocks.