The State of Saturday Nights

It certainly has come as a surprise to me, particularly when I think about some of the stuff I’ve dared to have an opinion on over the years and written about here and on social media, that the one thing I’ve riled people with more than anything else has been my views on the ill-fated Dermot O’Leary *vehicle, The Getaway Car!

Yes, you did read that right. I’ve had more stick about The Getaway Car than anything else I’ve ever written about. I know, let that sink in for a moment!

Admittedly, this has largely been from ex-contestants of the show, who didn’t take too kindly to my previous blog The Trouble with Gameshows  in which as well as pointing out how bad the programme was I also suggested that it followed the ever increasing trend of accepting the “serial contestant”. You know the sort, the over-the-top fame chasers who appear on every show possible because they see it as a stepping stone to fame. I’ve seen people talk about their appearances on gameshows and the like as part of their career plans. These people destroy programmes because they’re generally hard to like and invest in as a viewer. They have a motive aside from simply taking part or winning a prize and that can be an unwelcome distraction. Anyway, I digress as I go into detail about that in the other blog.

Of course, not every contestant is like this and even if they were the downfall of a programme is not their fault. What has come across in every comment I’ve had from people who took part in The Getaway Car is they clearly had a great time. They were made to feel welcome, looked after and integral to the programme. Quite right too. Anybody from the public taking part in a TV show should be made to feel this way. It’s the least they should expect and I understand their defence of a programme they’ve been made to feel such a part of. It’s actually quite heartwarming.

For all of that though the show was, without question, still a big fat turkey!

It’s a sad reflection of the malaise of Saturday night television in particular and to some extent the industry as a whole. Let’s think about this in detail for a minute. Common sense should have prevented The Getaway Car from being made in the first place. You have to go back to the success of Total Wipeout to understand the logic or lack of it here. There you have a show that did very nicely for 4 and a bit series before being laid to rest. There’s only so many times you can laugh at somebody falling off those big red balls! Anyway, it does well and it has its day. Fine. The mentality in TV these days and in reality for some time now is not OK let’s find something new and better but where’s our next Total Wipeout? That formula worked so how can we tweak it into something not quite Total Wipeout but essentially Total Wipeout without it actually being Total Wipeout because we’ve decided that people don’t want that anymore!

So, you get Total Wipeout with cars (The Getaway Car) and Indoor Total Wipeout (Can’t Touch This) and they’re just poor imitations of the original with bells and whistles that don’t make any sense and they flop abysmally. It happens over and over again. The pre-series trailers for these shows were such that anybody with any nous could spot the oncoming turkeys straight away.

In The Getaway Car’s case you also have to question the BBC’s thinking here from its scheduling point of view. It gave the impression of either not being confident in its own programme, an expensive one at that, or not thinking through it’s airing strategy. It arrived with not a great deal of fanfare set for a 12 week run prior to the start of the Six Nations’ RugbyHowever the BBC’s coverage of the rugby saw the programme moved around the schedules either in different time slots or completely bumped to make way for it.

Then it did so poorly they rested it to make way for the even worse Can’t Touch This before bringing back The Getaway Car, pretending it’s Series 2. The programme’s own Twitter account was just dormant for months with no explanation of what was happening, when it would be back or doing anything to try and keep the struggling show afloat. It was as if the BBC knew the game was up from the start. Dermot O’Leary heading back to ITV’s The X Factor probably didn’t help either although I’m guessing he didn’t take much persuading if this is the kind of stuff the BBC were offering up to him.

Saturday night television hasn’t been this poor since the incredible low of Don’t Scare the Hare.  (Yeah. I’ve said it. Take a deep breath reader. Don’t Scare the Hare! Oh God I’ve said it again!)

ITV can’t rest easily either. They bravely dispensed with their merry-go-round presenter-kit of Ant and Dec, Phillip Schofield and Stephen Mulhern to come up with The Cube but not actually in a cube and with more people in it than The Cube (Bang on the Money).  The risk was seen as blooding popular breakfast radio duo Melvin Odoom and Rickie Haywood-Williams but essentially the show was just another in a long line of recent Saturday night turkeys posting one of the lowest ratings ever for ITV in its slot. Hopefully, Melvin and Rickie will not shoulder the blame for this. The show was always weak which is probably why Holly Willoughby or Eamonn Holmes didn’t even get a look-in for hosting duties!

Apparently, Channel 4 are making a new Saturday night show with Alan Carr and Noel Edmonds. Let’s hope Noel’s cosmic ordering and cancer-busting positivity pulse pad are working well as the last thing Saturdays need is another prime-time flop.

*Sorry. I just can’t help myself!

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Here’s why I’m IN!

It seems strange to be writing this on the very eve of the EU Referendum vote. I’ve wrestled with writing something for weeks now but this debate has made me so angry, depressed, upset and fearful there just doesn’t seem to have been a right time to do it. I’ve feared I’d slip into some sort of blinkered, personalised rant; filled with the very ire that to be fair the majority of the last 10 weeks of campaigning has been littered with.

This has not been the United Kingdom’s finest hour. Language on both sides of the debate has been at best highly charged and at worst fuelled by hate. I would argue that this type of discourse hasn’t started with the EU referendum campaign. The bile, veiled threats and gutter politics has been growing for well over a decade now. We’ve just seen a crescendo over the past 10 long weeks of which I personally, haven’t seen in my lifetime and I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from it in the near future whatever the result. More on that in a future blog I feel!

Putting all of that aside though, yes, I am a remainer! Feels good to write that. It’s a perfectly innocent word. To continue to be. I’m in and not out. I’m a British, English, Scouse European in no particular order of merit. I’m happy to embrace all sides of those cultures together with any remaining trace of Irish ancestry embedded within my own and many Liverpudlian’s DNA.

There’s no treachery there. There’s nothing unpatriotic about that. Nobody can seriously claim otherwise.

There are lots of reasons why I’ll be voting to stay in the EU. I won’t go through each of them here as over the last 10 weeks people far more eloquently have put arguments across that I’ve shared through social media. I will just touch upon the ones that I feel most strongly about.

Firstly, I’m from Liverpool. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the European Union saved the city of Liverpool. The EU saved it from a Tory government with a Thatcherite policy of “managed decline”. Under that government Liverpool qualified for European Objective One status. Reserved only for the poorest parts of Europe as a whole. Just think about that for a moment. Our own government let Liverpool and other areas of the UK rot until they were officially the poorest regions of the entire EU. So much for the 5th most prosperous economy in the world! Europe bailed us out. You can’t walk around Liverpool without walking past something that is there only because of European funding. It’s a vibrant centre that millions visit. The bars and hotels are full every weekend and there are just so many of them now! It’s not Utopia but just what would have happened to Liverpool and other vast swathes of neglected, typically working class areas, without all that money from Europe? (Note to Frank Field: Can you actually remember how run down Liverpool and the City Region were? Are you sure you’re in the right party? Maybe you should take your own advice and “think the unthinkable” of a Merseyside devoid of all those European millions begging for the crumbs off the Tory table?)

Secondly and following on from above, the UK will not be able to get a better trade deal than almost an entire continent. There’ll be no special treatment for us from the rest of Europe if we decide to go. Quite the contrary. We’ll be made an example of to quell any other nations who may question their European status. The “5th largest economy” is a misnomer. The majority of that wealth sits with the top 2% of our population anyway and that’s not because of Europe! To suggest we’ll still have access to the European market on our terms because we’re Britain and they need us is nonsense. Leaving Europe will be like a bitter divorce and asking for free trade on only our terms would be like asking your ex-wife to have free access to her home and complete use of all the facilities whilst expecting to continue to make love to her on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Bank Holidays!

Thirdly, you simply have to look at who wants us to leave. On the face of it that’s a point based on personalities but it’s far deeper than that. It’s about their political DNA. Anyone contemplating voting to leave the EU has to at least stop for even a second and think about the long-held beliefs of those campaigning for Brexit. Why are this lot so keen to leave the European Union? Really, think carefully about it. Why? 

Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Ian Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, Priti Patel, Paul Nutalls of the UKIPs, Toby Young, Katie Hopkins, Neil Hamilton, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Rupert Murdoch, Liam Fox, Nigel Lawson, Chris Grayling etc. Not one of them have done anything for or have any good will towards the working class. Between them their policies include, privatising the NHS, dismantling the BBC, scrapping workers’ rights, commercialisation of the education system, relaxing gun laws, denying climate change, further austerity, reducing public services even further, supporting bankers’ bonuses (yes those people who caused the financial crash in the first place!) banning satire, scrapping social housing, attacking the disabled, protecting tax havens, scrapping support for legal representation to those who cannot afford it, defending zero-hours contracts… The list goes on.

Why are those people with their track record so desperate to leave the EU?

Finally, I’ve seen so many people viewing this referendum as some sort of vote to get rid of the Conservatives. There’ll be no General Election as a consequence of this vote. We have fixed term parliaments now. You might see the back of Cameron and Osbourne only to usher in the new dawn of Johnson and Gove and strengthening the position of Farage and the far-right.

This isn’t about anything other than our future in Europe, potentially our future as a United Kingdom and protecting our children and grandchildren’s rights, mobility and influence on our own continent and beyond.

It really is no time, with all the issues facing us as a planet, never mind Europe, to be isolating ourselves on an opportunistic right-wing whim.

The Excommunication of St Cadbury

Poor old St Cadbury.

Once the revered Christian saint of chocolatey goodness; now a despised infidel having stabbed Jesus, Christianity, Easter and no doubt the Easter Bunny firmly in the back. A whole Christian doctrine of Immaculate Eggs bestowed upon all believers at Easter time, as originally told by the Bible in the story of Jesus, St Cadbury and the Chocolate Factory (Wonka 4:15-32).

Who could have believed after all these years that in 2016, according to the Daily Telegraph’s John Bingham, the word “Easter” had been “quietly dropped from Easter eggs”? To make matters worse, at the head of this heinous, secretive and cowardly act was none other than St Cadbury himself, clearly egged on by the Dark Lord Nestlé. (Sorry. I have to allow myself one egg based pun.)

Immediately, St Cadbury’s Twitter feed was targeted by devout Christians everywhere, leaving many parishes across the country to wonder where they had been hiding during Sunday mass all this time:

“Shame on greedy St Cadbury for dropping the word Easter from our choc eggs”

“Disgusting you’ve dropped the word ‘EASTER’ #BoycotStCadbury (well the truth is if I didn’t like your choc so much I would lol!)”

“Is it true that you are banning the word  from your Easter eggs because it offends other religions?”

“St Cadbury – So my fiancé informs me your removing #Easter from your eggs in the future? I find this disgusting we have had Easter eggs 4 yrs”

“Well, St Cadbury,  why not stop selling chocolate altogether in case you offend people who don’t like chocolate?”

Outraged Christians overwhelmed St Cadbury who, as if blind-sided by the criticism could only muster the mealy-mouthed reply:

“Hi there, we haven’t removed the word ‘Easter’ from our products, it’s on the back!”

 A collective sound of mass self-righteous jaw dropping was heard far and wide across the land. What had happened to St Cadbury? OUR ST CADBURY!!! He of the Immaculate Eggs bestowed upon all believers at Easter time and to this day readily available at retail outlets for a huge profit! On the back indeed! ON THE BACK?!! Why this sudden relegation from the front to the back?

Despite no evidence suggesting the word “Easter” had ever been particularly or consistently prominent on the front, back or sides of such eggs since those biblical times of old; (largely because they only appear at Easter and tend to come in a large, clear, egg shape so that even the most moronic of dullards could hazard a guess as to what they are!) In stepped The Archangel Louise Mensch to drive out the now excommunicated former St Cadbury: (Notice I’ve resisted cheapening this story by not using “eggs-communicated” there keeping to my word about only one egg based pun.)

“St Cadbury. It’s Easter Day. Maybe ease up on the insults to Christians by telling them Easter is now “on the back” eh?”

And so, as it was prophesied in Charlie 16:1-7: “The nation’s moral compass, Hopkins, will be too busy striking down lefties, migrants and child sex abuse victims. So, the lesser Hopkins, AKA Mensch shall drive out St Cadbury from this great nation and free the people to worship through stuffing their faces with the Holy chocolate just as Jesus would have wanted us to do.

As for John Bingham of The Daily Telegraph? He slipped away silently, back into the darkness, his work on Earth done until the next opportunity to awaken the “political correctness gone mad” brigade with more spurious facts of an unspecified origin.

You’re Back in the Room (Unfortunately)

Many years ago, I interviewed a comedy hypnotist on a live radio programme. Prior to the interview, I met the person in question at their home in order to arrange it. The whole thing is quite a long story but suffice to say that he was the dodgiest bloke I’ve ever met in my entire life and I’m saying this having also met and interviewed Fred Talbot! Yes, it’s true to say that I’ve had some glamour jobs in the past.

These days, both of those former interviewees have been put away, which unfortunately cannot be said for ITV’s comedy hypnotism game show, You’re Back in the Room which inexplicably returned to our screens last Saturday. Hosted by Phillip Schofield, part of the channel’s axis of entertainment alongside Ant & Dec and Stephen Mulhern, the show takes something that was mildly popular around 20 years ago and turns a 5 minute variety act into an hour long stretch. Indeed, it stretches the sheer notions of entertainment, credibility and how this came to get a second series to the very limits.

Incidentally, what is it with ITV? They basically have 4 presenters and two of those are a double act! Don’t get me wrong, I rate them all highly but there’s no need for them to host everything the channel has to offer. I imagine them sitting in a room at the beginning of the year playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide who hosts what. Schofield clearly lost out here. In parts it’s just totally unwatchable. It’s just noise and people running about like they’re trapped in an adult nursery. Let’s face it, you know something has had its day in show business when it becomes a mainstay of the entertainment programme at a Pontins or an All Inclusive resort in Benidorm. (See also Rose Marie, Jimmy Cricket, Dr and the Medics and that bloke from Brother Beyond)

Comedy hypnotism really should not be prime time Saturday night television in 2016. The fact that here it actually is again just shows you where we are at in today’s multi-channel, multi-platform era. Just why do we need hypnotists anyway? Let’s face it, Big Brother got George Galloway to pretend to be a cat without any need for “suggestion”. All he needed was a white dressing gown, Rula Lenska and a scant regard for personal dignity.

The Trouble with Gameshows

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Gameshows are never going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Often maligned as cheap, low-brow or tacky and let’s face it some of them have been, (Sue Pollard’s Take the Plunge I’m looking at you!) a good gameshow can provide those essential talking points for the next day.

– Notice I avoided the phrase “watercooler moment” there. Personally, the only “watercooler moments” I’ve ever had have been wrestling with the cheap plastic cups from the dispenser, a distinct lack of cool emanating from the water from the watercooler and back trouble from stooping to get the water or from lugging a watercooler refill around. There is nothing remotely cool or momentous about the watercooler.

Anyhow, I digress. – A good gameshow should fulfil some very simple principles in order to get people talking and tuning in again for the next episode. Essential to the format are the contestants. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? However, a gameshow should choose its contestants wisely and the format should bring out the best in them. Essentially, for a gameshow to work, an audience must invest in the contestant. They have to be likeable and the audience needs to be on their side so that at the finale they can share their delight at winning or pain at losing.

All too often though, gameshows are being let down by their choice of contestants and how they are encouraging them to come across to the viewer. There seems to have been an increase in the “serial contestant” desperate to put themselves over as funny, or talented and hoping to be given a shot not at a big star prize, but to become a star themselves. They are those people at the very bottom of the wannabe food chain, moving from gameshow to gameshow and no doubt constantly sending their wacky audition videos to Big Brother.

Producers of some gameshows seem to actively encourage these people to apply to their programmes. Dermot O’Leary’s bulging snooze-fest, The Getaway Car is a prime example. Their audition process for contestants specifically referred to wanting “lively, up-for-it” couples. This is TV executive code for loud, annoying fame-chasers. Sure, you don’t want contestants to be boring but you don’t want them forcing the issue either for their own ends. In an hour long show, already 50 minutes too long in the first place, these people don’t instil any empathy with the viewer and so you don’t care about them winning and the whole show is lost.

Stephen Mulhern’s Catchphrase with Stephen Mulhern as well as Stephen Mulhern’s daytime vehicle Stephen Mulhern’s Pick Me also starring Stephen Mulhern are other examples of shows deliberately featuring the “up for it” contestant. Catchphrase, in particular, is a show with a long history and a favourite in the eyes of the British public following its original run from 1986. Its current incarnation however, is virtually unwatchable and it’s through no fault of Mr Mulhern (who I rate, incidentally!) but the obsession with contestants who are more concerned about themselves than the prize, or the show or anything else going on in their lives. They come across as annoying and self-centred, desperate to be noticed morons, which is exactly what they are and destroy a perfectly good format because you can’t invest in them and so you’re left with nobody to root for at the end.

So what’s the point?

Having a Pop at the Pundits

They get let off the hook week in week out. As the game of football has grown and more matches are broadcast live on a multitude of channels so standards have dropped.

No, I’m not talking about players who can’t score or defend or even move for that matter or referees who can’t tell a handball from an offside or a ball out of play. These days they do not escape as camera angles and technology and experts dissect every wrong move, every missed opportunity and every poor decision.

What about the experts though? Who is monitoring them? Why isn’t there a dubious pundit panel alongside the mysterious dubious goals one? Why is there no Global Head of Punditry, rigourously assessing the likes of Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Robbie Savage? (Although granted the latter may need a whole dubious committee of his own)

I don’t think it is a bold statement to suggest, indeed, categorically state that the state of British football punditry is at an all time low. Mark Lawrenson, in hair terms the Donald Trump of punditry, looks bored by his own presence in a studio. Michael Owen seems to have been bought the Complete Works of Colemanballs, digested every word and is determined to use each gaffe on BT Sport and Glenn Hoddle for all his media and ex-pro sycophants who lament his loss to the game and his tactical nous still conjures up the spirit of Eileen Drewery. A man who seems to amazingly impress all his fellow pundits with his “knowledge of the game”, “tactical acumen” and bewilder them as to “why there seems to be no room for him in today’s game” yet still to my clearly untrained ear talks absolute twaddle when he comes anywhere near a live microphone. You could say much the same for Harry Redknapp and his financially astute dog.

Here’s an example for you. BT Sport have the goal-fest that was Norwich v Liverpool the other week. Prior to kick off Michael Owen, Steve McManaman and Glenn Hoddle are perplexed by Jurgen Klopp’s decision to start with Robert Firmino up front as opposed to Christian Benteke. Firmino gets a hammering from the team and to a lesser extent Klopp for going with Firmino. The fact that the pundit’s preferred choice of Benteke has played a 90 minute version of footballing statues in recent outings counts for nothing as there is abject bewilderment that Firmino should get a look in ahead of the former Villa goal machine. Sure enough Firmino scores 2 goals and narrowly misses a hat-trick in a man-of -the-match performance for Liverpool.

Later on in the game with Liverpool 3-1 down, Klopp substitutes Jordan Ibe and brings on Adam Lallana. Glenn Hoddle is beside himself, his tactical know-how just cannot comprehend how “the lad” and the “really talented young player” can be hauled off being one of the only members of Liverpool’s squad who can “directly influence the game”. I personally was also beside myself thinking if Hoddle had been watching the same game as me. Ibe had beaten his opposing full-back early on in the game and then faded into obscurity, offering nothing offensively and failing to do any tracking back, constantly exposing Alberto Moreno. Hoddle had other ideas though but strangely went quiet when shortly after Klopp’s dodgy substitution Liverpool proceeded to quickly go 4-3 up. How much Glenn Hoddle could give still give to the game of football, if only he was given the opportunity!

This week, one Liverpool fan site has polled its readers and who came out as player of the month? Why, none other than Roberto Firmino. I’m guessing for all of Owen’s, McManaman’s and Hoddle’s bluster Christian Benteke wasn’t troubling the scorer (as -per) in that poll!

Now there may not be, at present, a dubious pundit panel, but there is a TV Anchor, in this case Jake Humphrey. Did he expose the pundits for their nightmare in Norwich?

No. Of course not and that’s the problem. Players and referees are pulled apart and their every action or lack of it exposed and criticised. There is no problem with that. It’s a professional game after all but when pundits get it wrong, particularly so spectacularly wrong, then the host should point it out and expose them for it. They are paid well too as is the host and it would sure make a change from the blase “bon-hommie” that exists currently. Match of the Day can be almost unwatchable as Gary Lineker chortles along with his pundit pals whilst the in-jokes keep coming. All Jake Humphrey had to say was, “So, Steve, Glenn and Michael. Robert Firmino man of the match and an inspired substitution from Jurgen Klopp. Not such a good day for you guys was it?”

Incidentally, what is it with Steve McManaman? He really does need a suitable haircut for his age. At this rate and if he ages badly he’s one step away from becoming Mick Hucknall.

My Best Holiday Friend…Ever!

There’s somebody I’d like you to meet. Someone that I met whilst on holiday in Portugal earlier this year. We haven’t kept in touch or anything but this person has had a profound effect on me. We didn’t need to speak then and we don’t need to speak now. Our relationship is about so much more than mere words. Here he is here:

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I say “he”. Frankly, I couldn’t be sure of gender, but “he” seems to do. (He’s never complained.) I never asked, but then again our relationship is about so much more than mere gender. I said he looked like a Portuguese Wizbit. He just smiled. He always kept on smiling. He never replied but then again he didn’t have to. Our relationship is about so much more than mere social pleasantries.

We only met on a couple of occasions, always in the exact same spot, where the picture was taken. Ah! That place. That special place! It didn’t matter where it was that we happened to meet though. I guess as an inanimate object, fixed to the floor, you don’t really get about a lot and our relationship is about so much more than places or pleasantries or words or being an actual living thing.

In actual fact, the reasons why he is my best friend that I have ever met on any holiday ever is for a whole list of things he didn’t do:

  • He didn’t interrupt my holiday with my family.
  • He didn’t ask me any questions about where I was from or where I was staying or how long I was staying for.
  • He didn’t join me for a drink or whilst I was eating.
  • He didn’t suggest anywhere that I should go that he’d just been to and was in his opinion quite simply amazing.
  • He didn’t tell me that he was going there again tomorrow and that I really had to join him and his family.
  • He didn’t suggest that we should meet up for drinks later on in the evening and force me to accept out of politeness.
  • He didn’t give me his email or phone number and suggest we should keep in contact after the holiday was over.
  • He didn’t once get in the way of my holiday, the time I treasure away from everything, with my wonderful family.

What a guy!