For a change, and as I said a few days ago, I am very happy with the German song selection for ESC 2019 – even if I’m in the minority feeling that way. The quality of songs and artists was a big improvement on recent years, and the voting format is exciting and better than most of the ones Germany has used in the past.
But it’s not all sunshine, and there are still five things that annoy me about the German final. Let’s find out what they are, and what Germany can do to improve.
1. Unengaged hosts
We love Barbara. She’s a legend, she has her own magazine, she is the best host that Germany could have for this show. Her interactions with Linda Zervakis weren’t unentertaining, but nothing to shout about either. Peter Urban, the Terry Wogan of Germany, was the second legend in the studio, and although his role as commentator felt very unusual for a national final, his place in this format is deserved and it works. But let’s get back to Linda Zervakis. Like most other previous German final hosts, she seemed to not really care about what was happening on the evening. I guess she just wanted to demonstrate that questionable German TV “coolness” (which is actually not cool at all), but it comes across as uninterested, unengaged, bored. It mostly shone through in that striking moment when she obviously didn’t know by heart which artist had which position in the running order. In a final with just seven songs, that’s lame and unprofessional. Germany has surely more entertaining and more engaged counterparts for Barbara. Find them!
She deserves better!
2. Way too long postcards
Postcards in Eurovision shows have two obvious functions: They introduce the audience to the next artist, and while they’re happening, the stage is reorganised and prepared for the next performance. On the whole, though, viewers tend not to be very interested in postcards. Their attention span might last for 30 seconds, but anything longer than a minute is just too much. I didn’t sit there with a stopwatch and take measurements, but the postcards in the German final felt like they were longer than the actual songs! Why? Watching this year’s national finals from around Europe makes it all too clear that Germany has some of the biggest gaps between songs. The show dragged so much that we were still only at song 4 after nearly an hour. That’s way too much airtime for uninteresting, unexciting, unentertaining material. Does Germany really need that much longer to work on the stage between songs? It’s hard to believe – the postcards have been far shorter in the past, and Germany has recent experience of hosting ESC itself, with its much shorter gaps between songs. The idea may well be to introduce the next artist in depth, but in that case, it’s a good intention poorly executed. When it’s all about the song, a snappy postcard keeps the viewer’s interest up and prevents them from searching for snacks or going elsewhere – other channels included.
3. Established artists as interval acts
Udo Lindenberg is one of the biggest German music legends, but other than writing a long-forgotten national final entry, what was the reason for him being there? Revolverheld aren’t bad at all, but what do they have to do with Eurovision? And so on. I always find it a bit odd to have established artists performing their own songs as interval acts. Especially when they are as far away from Eurovision as the Rolling Stones. To me, it feels a bit like the broadcaster saying “Look, Eurovision candidates! Look, Eurovision fans! This is real music. You know, music that counts, unlike that irrelevant Eurovision stuff.” That attitude, at the heart of a Eurovision show? Seriously? I’m not asking for Ruslana feat. Mary Roos every year, but at least something with a connection to the contest would be far preferable to acts who don’t care for Eurovision, and for whom Eurovision fans don’t care.
Don’t bore us, get to the chorus
Which brings us on to:
4. Lack of glamour and dramaturgy
Know your audience, ARD, if you want to build one. This mixed bag doesn’t work. It’s Eurovision, not the new year’s party at the Brandenburg Gate.
Besides the use of “real” artists, the German final sorely misses more glamour and dramaturgy. The organisers need to learn how to stage this show, literally! What’s with that uninspired, rectangular stage? Where is the glitter, the glamour, the colour, the festivity? Switch over to RTL’s Let’s Dance and you’ll see that German television can “do” glamour very well. So why does the German final feel like a regional afternoon news show by comparison? And then: Dramaturgy. Has no one in the team ever thought about how to raise the suspense? It was lucky that the voting was quite all over the place, so things stayed interesting until the end. But creating small breaks in between each set of votes would be better.
Why does the national final struggle with viewing figures when Eurovision itself doesn’t have the same problem in Germany? I strongly suspect the lack of a Eurovision vibe as described in the last two points to be the main reason. But another one is surely this:
5. Nobody knows it’s on
One might get the feeling that NDR is embarrassed about Eurovision. While I know weeks in advance when the other shows I follow on German TV are aired, just from the press coverage and advertising, the German final remains an oddity hidden away somewhere in the schedule with hardly any announcements. This may also have to do with the fact that the German final still has no unique brand of its own. Things got slightly better as of last year, but still: New logo, new title (country name instead of city name), new number of songs, zero popularity. I’ve been repeating myself for decades now. Germany needs to establish a brand for its national final. Portugal can do it, Sweden has done it for years now. Hungary, Denmark, and most other countries with a public selection for Eurovision use a national final with a dedicated name, a consistent identity and a permanent format. Germany needs to do the homework that has been overdue for nearly a decade now and give us a recognisable televised event, preferably consisting of several shows to help establish the brand and raise awareness among viewers.
Happier days for the German final
Right now, though, we are far away from an established format. “The German final” means something different, year after year. This a sign of disinterest, whateverism and disrespect on the part of the responsible broacaster.
So, yes, this year’s German final happened to produce a winner that I’m very happy with, but that doesn’t paper over the cracks. Viewing figures were low, and public interest remains largely non-existent. Put simply: Why should the German audience be interested in something that its creators aren’t even interested in?