YOU’RE BACK IN THE ROOM: A HYPNOTIST’S REVIEW by Ben Dali

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Three weeks in and for better or worse, ITV’s ‘You’re Back In The Room’ is the most talked about gameshow on UK TV at the moment and the initial response has been overwhelmingly negative. Here’s a perspective on it from someone in a unique position to analyse the show – being a stage hypnotist and gameshow presenter myself, as well as having designed a similar format in my own right 3 years ago.

Firstly, the show does what it says on the label – provides easy watching, amusing and conversation-provoking entertainment. It’s impossible to watch it without forming an opinion, and the range of opinions people could form on this is as vast as any TV show could provide. You’d be as justified to consider the show hilarious, fascinating and unmissable as you would lowbrow, degrading and staged. If you’ve not seen it yet, it’s worth finding out which end of the scale you land on.

From a hypnotist’s perspective, the show does no favours to the credibility of our industry. Any science provided by the hypnotist Keith Barry is minimalistic and unenlightening, the hypnosis of the contestants is glossed over and the show makes insufficient effort to educate viewers about the power of the psychological phenomenon, providing ammunition for sceptics and making no attempt to persuade those on the fence about hypnosis to join our ‘side’. The hypnosis is used solely as a gimmick, but should be treated more like a 3rd host, given more screen time and worthy scripting in order to establish it as a science and not a tool.

Of course, timing is an issue and the show is so heavily edited that each episode must go through more film reel than the Director’s Cut of Return of the King, but if they were to use 4 people per show rather than 5 then they could allocate more time to making the show educational and more highbrow. This would also assist with the longevity of the show, as, in contrast to any other gameshow, there’s a finite number of people in the country who are qualified to be contestants here.

While those who know about psychology and hypnosis will be convinced that the contestants are genuine people and there is no dishonesty regarding their reaction to suggestions, the percentage of footage making the broadcast leaves scope for speculation as to how much of what we see is down to their own creativity and imaginations. The great advantage of live hypnosis is that the audience sees and understands as events unfold, but here there’s no reason why Barry couldn’t pause the action, tell contestants to say a funny line, or instruct additional reactions before ending up on the cutting room floor while the results of his puppetry makes the small screen. The show would benefit from an ‘Xtra Factor’ or ‘QI XL’ style extended episode to show what goes on behind the scenes. As a hypnotist, I’ve always believed that the best way to gain credibility for hypnosis is to share the basic science behind it so that people understand what is happening to their minds or those they are observing. This reveals no secrets but gains respect and empathy for the art form. The production team of ‘You’re Back In The Room’ are as vague and brief as possible and this does more harm than good.

From a gameshow presenter’s perspective the show is a car crash. The format provides the opportunity for such vast variety between episodes and creative design but they really haven’t taken advantage of this. The series is destined to be completely formulaic and predictable, avoiding exploring science, the range of phenomena which can be achieved under hypnosis, or the inclusion of celebrities that anyone has an actual interest in. As each contestant is given a different obstructing suggestion, each round has so much going on and relatively few highlights and no rigid structure. The host, Philip Schofield randomly announces when there is 30 seconds remaining, leaving us unaware of how much has been recorded but not shown; the studio audience could very easily be sitting through 20 minutes of tedium that eventually gets reduced down to 5 minutes of TV-worthy material. He then recaps how much has been won, rarely justifying how they’ve earned so much money. Quiz-themed rounds have no structure or intelligence in design, but are purely a platform to encourage reactions to hypnotic suggestions for comedy effect, usually successfully, but for anyone who values the format of a quiz this will cause copious amounts of pain.

A few more things need to change before the show succeeds – a more dynamic presenter is essential, ideally the presenter and hypnotist would be the same person (hint hint), with a glamourous female presenting assistant. Also, the title should be ‘Back in the Room’.

Although the science of hypnosis is given a back seat, the comedy potential is realised to a satisfactory level. Contestants are very well selected even if they are not treated with enough respect, and the concept of combining gameshow and hypnosis is magnificent even if it needs some more qualified idea-men at the helm. It may be flawed but it’s also a highly entertaining show and hopefully will pave the way for hypnosis to come towards to forefront of public interest and the awareness of the entertainment industry.

Ben Dali
Comedy Stage Hypnotist
1/4/2015