Will AI dream up the hit TV shows of the future?

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Alan PartridgeImage source, Getty Images
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Would AI be any worse at coming up with ideas for TV shows than Alan Partridge?

Many of us of a certain age will remember the Alan Partridge scene where he is pitching to a TV executive in a bid to get a new series commissioned.

Getting ever more desperate, the fictional British TV presenter suggests shows such as Inner City Sumo, Youth Hostelling With Chris Eubanks, and finally, Monkey Tennis. All were perhaps unsurprisingly rejected.

Maybe Partridge, played by comedian and actor Steve Coogan, would have had better luck if he had let an artificial intelligence (AI) computer system pick the ideas.

That may initially sound like a highly fanciful idea, but a number of TV production companies have already announced that they are using AI to help them dream up new programmes.

These include RTL Group, whose subsidiaries make everything from The X Factor, to The Apprentice, Grand Designs and QI. It said last year that it had "started to support content creation with generative AI.", external

Meanwhile, Banijay, which makes Deal or No Deal and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, now has a fund to back AI-created content. Announcing this last year,, external it said: "While human creativity will always prevail, it's important to work alongside the tools which are available to contribute to the future of ground-breaking entertainment."

While neither firm has yet to unveil a new TV series whose idea came from an AI system, I decided to put one to the test.

So I logged into an AI chatbot, and typed in what I was looking for. I wrote: "I am trying to think up a new TV format. A series with contestants.

"Maybe they would be learning a new skill, like dancing, or perhaps they are trying to compete in communities to have the most sustainable environment. Can you help me with some ideas?"

The AI confirms that this could be an exciting endeavour. And instantly comes up with six ideas.

I like its first suggestion - Skills Mastery Showdown - where contestants would be paired with skilled mentors, and have a limited time to master a specific new skill, such as dancing, cooking or painting.

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The AI suggested a TV show where people had to learn a new skill such a painting

But what do TV industry experts think about the use of AI in coming up with future content? I ask Dan Whitehead, who is a senior consultant at K7 Media, a Manchester-based research firm that reports on the TV business.

"The idea of a machine that you can type a request into, in normal conversational language, and have it spit out something close to what you asked for, still feels pretty magical," he says. "So it's understandable that people are drawn to it.

"Can something like [AI chatbot] ChatGPT generate ideas for a TV show? Of course, but then ideas for TV shows have never been in short supply. The big problem for most production companies is the uncertainty - which ideas are best, which ones are worth investing in?"

Mr Whitehead argues that AI can give people false confidence, giving them the sense that if it - with access to billions of data points - can come up with these ideas, they must somehow be better.

Image source, Dan Whitehead
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Dan Whitehead says ideas for decent TV shows need a leftfield, human spark

I look back at Skills Mastery Showdown. Maybe it's not that innovative after all. Mr Whitehead says that AI is better used in a much more nuanced, background way.

"The BBC's Springwatch and Winterwatch use a bespoke AI system that monitors live camera feeds, and has been trained to recognise, record and log different species of animals and birds as they appear in the frame," he says. "It can then tell the production team how often they appear, give behavioural insights, and generally do something that would eat up hours of human production time."

Eline van Der Velden, founder and chief executive of London-based TV production firm Particle 6, is more positive about using AI to both help come up with ideas for new programmes, and to write scripts.

She says that recently she had two versions of a script ready for a client, one edited by humans, and the other by Chat GPT. "We gave them both versions, and they preferred the ChatGPT one," she says.

Image source, Eline van Der Velden
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Eline van Der Velden says that it won't be long before a TV show devised by AI gets produced

Ms van Der Velden adds that she wants her producers to know how to use AI to help them do their job. "[Otherwise] it's like having someone who doesn't know how Microsoft Word works," she says. "It speeds everything up."

She also says that AI isn't replacing jobs in TV, or at least not all of them. "It's like when accountants thought they'd be out of work with the advent of Excel.

"You still need a creative director, but this is a tool that programme makers should use. It will enable us to reach the next level of our full potential."

I still want to see if AI can help me make a hit TV programme? What about a drama series instead?

Mr Whitehead reminds me that AI is not human, that it will never have an emotional response to any requests or prompts that I give it.

Undeterred, I asked my AI chatbot for ideas for a new TV show about the Post Office scandal. It comes back with a six-part series called "Broken Trust", which will combine drama and documentary elements to "engage viewers emotionally, while providing factual insights into the larger issues at play.

Mr Whitehead is not impressed, describing it as "about as generic a description of a programme on this subject as I can imagine".

He adds that ITV's hit show on the topic - Mr Bates vs The Post Office - could not have been dreamed up by AI.

"That needed human beings to see the human story, to trust that there was interest in that story," says Mr Whitehead. "No algorithm would ever have predicted that as one of the biggest shows of Christmas 2023, yet here we are.

"In fact most of the big hit shows - scripted and unscripted - came about because someone took a punt on a leftfield idea or unlikely combination of ideas that nobody was sure would work. I don't think AI will ever replicate that essential random spark."

However, Ms van Der Velden thinks it soon will. "AI helps us with scripts, topics for children's shows... The only thing it hasn't done yet, is come up with a great TV format - something like the Traitors. But it will. Just give it six months."