It was hyped as the reality show which gives power to the viewers. Seven Days, Channel 4's new docusoap, was supposed to point the way to the interactive television of the future.
The idea was simple enough: cameras follow the lives of real people living or working around Notting Hill and broadcast the highlights almost in real time. Viewers can contact them over the internet to influence their behaviour or, if they are in the right part of west London, can tell them what they think face to face.
But rather than an onslaught of emails and deranged fans waving placards, the only message coming back from most of the viewing public is that they are just not interested. The audience for the first programme, broadcast three weeks ago, was around 1.2 million – disappointing in itself, as Seven Days was planned to fill the hole left by the demise of Big Brother.
A week later, the figure dropped to 670,000. This week, the programme was moved forward a day, from Wednesday to Tuesday, but still drew in only 646,200 viewers.
More than five million people watched the final series of Big Brother, which was itself a record low for the programme, and more than 10 million watched Ann Widdecombe strutting her stuff on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing.
But the creators of Seven Days are still hopeful that its unique format will catch on. They point to the online activity it has generated, as viewers communicate with the people whose lives they have glimpsed on screen.
There was a moment of real-life drama in the second programme when Samantha, an aspiring actress, was spotted by a viewer and an onscreen spat ensued. Channel 4's website has received a trickle of messages from well-wishers telling Samantha not to worry. Yesterday there were about 20, but anyone logging in for the "latest chat" about her was greeted with the message: "There's no chat about Samantha yet."
One of the most popular characters appears to be John, a hairdresser, who drew eight responses from the public after he announced online that his broken toilet had been fixed. This is about eight more replies than most entries on the website have attracted.
The show's executive producer, Stephen Lambert, has admitted that the perception that Seven Days was the new Big Brother may have harmed the show.
"Reality fans tuned in expecting the next Big Brother and were probably disappointed, and documentary viewers were probably put off by that label," he told Broadcast magazine.
"But viewers have made thousands of comments and suggestions to the people in the show and when you start to see them changing their behaviour because of these comments, you start to see what makes the show unique."
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