Why Is ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ Melting Down?

The Great British Bake-Off, called The Great British Baking Show in its home country, has rapidly become one of the most beloved reality shows out there. The show’s kindness towards its amateur bakers and lighthearted sense of humor has made it deeply appealling to Netflix and BBC watchers. But lately the show seems to have completely fallen apart, with its co-hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc and judge Mary Berry all departing in rapid succession. So what’s happening, and why is The Great British Bake-Off collapsing?

This isn’t a minor deal. The Great British Bake-Off has grown in its home country from a minor reality show on the BBC to the single most popular TV show in Britain short of sports; the American equivalent, in terms of popularity, would be The Walking Dead. That, in turn, gave the show’s owners, Love Productions, a lot of leverage when it came to the bargaining table with the BBC, and the company might have overplayed its hand.

The BBC claims that Love’s financial demands were “unaffordable,” so, without consulting its stars, Love switched networks to Channel 4. That’s a lot more than a simple network switch, as the BBC is funded by British taxpayers, while Channel 4 is a private channel. More to the point, Channel 4, while technically publicly owned, is self-funded by the profits it makes off its programming. That means it has to fight the BBC, and every other British channel, just to stay on the air.

As a result, it’s got a reputation for aiming low, only reinforced by stunts like an attempt to satirize Shark Week with “Wank Week,” letting figureheads from repressive regimes offer their Christmas wishes, and trolling One Direction fans. One of Channel 4’s most popular shows remains reality show Big Brother, where that global reality show hit was spawned.

On a more fundamental level, it’s also tied to some degree with British politics and British identity. Britain has always struggled with whether to make a service public or private, and the one-two punch of the disastrous Brexit vote and the struggles of Britain’s healthcare system have reignited the privatization argument yet again. If nothing else, Love picking up and leaving Britain’s taxpayer funded channel was, culturally speaking, bad timing.

It was particularly poorly considered because it basically puts the hosts in a spot where no matter what decision they make, it’ll be interpreted, on some level, as a political move. Berry in particular was put in a difficult position to either leave the show or leave the BBC, where she hosts several other cooking shows, and made Love look like it was bullying a beloved chef in her 80s.

Needless to say, the British have not taken the move at all well either. Love’s move has been heavily criticized. It’s gotten to the point where the head of the left-leaning Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been using it as a political talking point. Love Productions seems resolute in their decision, and co-host Paul Hollywood is returning, but whether that’s enough remains to be seen.