A piece published on the website of Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them), the political party of which I’m the chairman, in September 2018:
A piece by Matthew Moore, Media Correspondent, in today’s Times:
The BBC is looking to attract more female, gay and ethnic minority contestants on Mastermind in a “creative refresh” of the long-running quiz show.
The diversity drive is part of a push to draw young viewers to the show, which was first broadcast in 1972 and is presented by John Humphrys, 75.
Women won the first three series of Mastermind but in recent years the later rounds have been dominated by men. Only four women have been crowned champion in the past 20 series.
The BBC’s plan to attract a broader range of contestants — and fears about being seen to dumb down the quiz — are revealed in a document distributed to television production companies.
Mastermind and Celebrity Mastermind have always been made by the BBC’s in-house studios but are being put out to competitive tender under new requirements to commission more from external producers.
“We wish to attract a wider and even more diverse audience and contestants for these series,” the document states. “We wish to explore how to cast a wider-ranging contestant pool attracting younger and older contestants, and wider diversity in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability.”
Bidders should also submit proposals for using social media to boost the show’s appeal to young people. These could include ideas for enabling viewers at home to answer the questions digitally, the tender hints.
Any radical changes to Mastermind would prove controversial. It emerged this year that producers are rejecting contestants’ requests to be questioned on pop culture specialist subjects such as Blackadder and executives appear sensitive to claims that the show’s intellectual rigour is being compromised.
“The strength of Mastermind and Celebrity Mastermind lies in the fact that it’s a serious quiz which our audiences really value,” the tender states, making clear that the “precision of the questions” must be maintained.
Humphrys must also be retained as presenter. He has suggested that men tend to do better because they are “more nerdy and more capable of amassing sometimes useless facts”, while women are “more interested in the important things in life”.
Mastermind is not the only BBC quiz struggling to attract female contestants. Last month several former University Challenge winners said that women thought twice about applying because of fears of abuse on social media and articles about their appearance.
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