Robot Wars. A program which has been in my heart for as long as I remember. The first series was commissioned in the year I was born (1996). Ever since I first saw it, I was hooked. But in 2005, it vanished.
So you can imagine how excited I was on a cold January evening in 2016 when I read on BBC News that Robot Wars had been recommissioned by BBC. I was thrilled.
And it lasted beautifully, with another 3 series (for a total of 10), arguably better than ever. But now, it appears to have gone west again. In this Special Edition, I will look at why it has left our screens again, and what options there are for a potential future.
Why has it been decommissioned?
Let’s run through the possibilities:
Ratings: Rating information for Robot Wars (like most BBC shows) is difficult to find. However, it isn’t difficult to think that the ratings for Series 10 may be lower than those for other series. Is this to do with the program itself? Maybe, but if this is the case, it could easily be related to competition.
You see, Series 10 had some friendly fire from BBC, as Blue Planet 2 was on BBC. This was a massive program, and people of all ages were watching it. So this could impact on ratings.
Overall though, I don’t think it is ratings that were the problem. I doubt the ratings fluctuated too much: in fact, I think it would be more likely that ratings went up. The series has really been hitting it’s stride (despite the pants International specials around the new year). So it’s unlikely that it would be that.
Safety: In recent times (particulary Series 10), the safety of the combat arena itself has come under scrutiny, with panels coming off of the side walls, the pop-up arena floor spikes turning into missile launchers on a weekly basis, and competitor Apex’s spinning bar destroying the bullet-proof protective screens protecting the crowd from the competitors.
This could be a valid reason to temporaliry cancel the program, and fuel on this particular theory fire is that there was issues with the safety of the arena before it’s first cancellation in ’05.
This is, in my opinion, the most likely reason. If it is the case, then it hopefully will be back when they have developed a safer arena. In that case, perhaps a new series late next year?
Cost: Another strong possibility. Make no bones about it, Robot Wars is not a cheap filler program. It takes dedication not only from the competitors, but also from the TV company.
With growing uncertainty around the economy, it is possible that they (BBC) either a. don’t have the money for the program, or b. would rather make cheaper filler programs and concentrate more on their more *established* (*: Yes, I know Robot Wars is established as I have mentioned and is one of the older programs on BBC in terms of original start date, but it spent a decade off-air and is not among the higher profile programs around).
This is a strong possibility, but there is likely to be other programs with big budgets which have lower ratings. If this is the case, Robot Wars is perhaps just BBC bosses picking what they want to watch, rather than being the channel of the people like it should be.
What options does the program have for future broadcast?
In this section, I will handpick a number of channels which I think hypothetically could be a home for Robot Wars going into the future.
BBC2: Yes, I know, this is the channel I have just been criticising for not being of the people. But there has been no official statement from the beeb. Therefore, is it too much to consider that there is a chance of it’s return to BBC? I think not, particulary as a strong groundswell of public opinion could be enough to turn the proverbial worm.
However, there are issues. Firstly, any production values are limited by what the government are willing to put into the BBC, and ultimately are responsible for it’s future. Also, there are inconsistencies in terms of acknowledgment of the past. It is important to decide whether the “new” series is the same as the “old” series, and stick to one decision.
Overall, my preference is for the series to stay on BBC. While RW has not been treated in the greatest way at times, if they are going to decide that the history is all one rather than altering history, anywhere else having a go could result in disputes over footage from previous series. Plus, I don’t much like adverts.
Dave: The quote unquote “men’s channel” of UKTV, Dave has shown Robot Wars Extreme in the past, though not for a number of years. The laid back and comedic nature of the channel would fit in nicely with the vibe of the program.
Adding to that is history. UKTV themselves have not only shown RW on Dave in the past, they also repeated early series on UKTV Horizons, and the two companies have had a relationship in the past, with BBC having a 50% stake in some older UKTV channels through commercial arm BBC Worldwide (including Horizons).
The main issue is timing. In recent times, Dave has been undergoing a little bit of a change, focusing more and more on sitcoms and stand-up comedy. While a lot of this is BBC original programming, Robot Wars is too serious to really fit in with a vast majority of Dave’s current programming.
Discovery Science: On the flip side, there is Discovery Science. A channel which is well known for engineering programs, this would seem like an ideal place for the new-look Robot Wars, with an increasing emphasis on education and encouraging people into engineering.
Also, Disc. Science already shows The Gadget Show, which has a more laid back feel, so the program would be unlikely to get bogged down in being too serious is Discovery took it up. And with a net income of over 1 Billion US Dollars, they would certainly have the money to build the ultimate arena.
The main issues for me revolve around visibility. While BBC and Dave are available on all TV packages in the United Kingdom, the same is not true for Discovery. Even on Sattelite TV, not all carriers carry the Discovery Network on their packages. Therefore, a portion of the loyal fanbase would potentially be unable to see the program, due to having the incorrect TV package.
Overall, Discovery Science is an appealing possibility, but the issues with it being unavailable on some TV packages makes it an outside bet, even if they would be able to dedicate money to it like others cannot.
5Spike: A slightly further out suggestion, 5 Spike is the UK version of the recently renamed Paramount Network (formally Spike TV), and is owned by Viacom, who own Channel 5 as well. Like all others on this list (except for Disc. Science), this is on all TV network packages.
The main advantage (and logic) for this move is that 5Spike has lots of high-octane programming, including Battlebots, the American cousin of Robot Wars. This could lead to some cool specials, including a Battlebots vs. Robot Wars special. Additionally, that knowledge could lead to building a better arena which won’t get destroyed.
The main issue with this is that while Viacom have Battlebots, that is not to say they would appreciate a British *version* of it. (I know they are unrelated strictly speaking, but they are similar concepts). Also, it cannot be guaranteed that Viacom have the spare finance with running several channels, to run another robotic combat show.
I don’t see RW moving to Viacom, mainly because they already have Battlebots, and may not have an interest in running two programs like that. Additionally, the American style of programming is a lot different from the British style, which is a lot quieter and more educational, as oppose to the brash and bombastic American style.
So this is just a suggestion of the future of Robot Wars. I will likely be reviewing more Robot Wars in the future, and I have no doubt that Robot Wars will be brought back again sooner rather than later, whether it is by BBC or by another company I suggested. Perhaps a name I didn’t think of will come forward even. For now though, peace out Roboteers, and All for the Renegades.