The four-part series, made in partnership with development charity World Vision, took a group of British millionaires to a Ugandan village to see whether they could use their entrepreneurial initiative to solve problems that aid could not. Sadly for Channel 4, it didn't attract much of an audience: the number of viewers shrank throughout the series and ended up at just 700,000.
Millionaires' Mission became a kicking post for some broadcasting professionals, who said the subject matter was inappropriate for mainstream viewing. World Vision, in contrast, was delighted. It was involved throughout the show's two-year development and had significant brand presence. A very articulate representative from the charity was on screen throughout and there was a lively discussion of the thorny issues of aid versus trade.
For my part, I think the choice of the millionaires was the problem: some were just not interesting enough for me to care about them.
Reality formats bring their own rules and constraints and rarely provide realistic outcomes. As the challenge of bringing new life to old subjects on television continues alongside increased pressure to reach younger viewers, this kind of show might increasingly be the way mainstream television touches issues that matter to the third sector.
As long as the programme maker is truthful with the audience and clear about the processes, then reality shows must be part of a broadcaster's armoury. After its terrible battering this year, Channel 4 has been rediscovering the joys of public service programmes, and has confronted tough factual subjects such as the environment, literacy and child trafficking.
Channel 4 has a difficult challenge balancing audience share and profitability on the one hand with its public service remit on the other, but there are good signs of an emerging mini golden age of factual programming at the broadcaster. Charities are involved in several projects appearing on screen this autumn and winter, and it's a good time for any organisation that thinks its mission has televisual qualities to start talking to producers.
Just make sure you are open to all possible treatments. Despite the relative flop of Millionaires' Mission, I really hope that Channel 4 ignores the critics, continues working closely with charities and puts the results of that cooperation at the heart of the schedule.
- Nick Ware is a broadcasting consultant