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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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?

Never Go Back

To some extent we are all stuck in the past. I suspect this intensifies the older we get. For most of us our childhood, teens and early adulthood evoke special memories. The days before responsibility and having to stand on your own two feet. We associate the “best days of our lives” with our favourite cultural reference points. It’s one of the reasons why there is so much television time based around nostalgia. You know the sort of stuff. Basically, Stuart Maconie waxing lyrical about stuff he remembers.

We all reminisce about the past, largely focusing on the best bits, quite naturally – and perhaps transforming the reality of what we remember into something far greater than the actual sum of the parts. Sometimes, we crave a return to those special times. Maybe a reunion, a visit to a particular place or a concert featuring Rick Astley.

Memories can be built on until they become the stuff of legend. They can reach a height that can never be attained again or frankly wasn’t attained in the first place. It is for this reason the phrase, “never go back” was invented. The memory of something and the subsequent hype around it becomes greater than the reality; an unachievable and unrealistic outpost clouded by our rose-tinted view of days gone by. Never go back.

Last week saw the much hyped return of Channel 4’s TFI Friday. During the 90’s it was much watch telly, featuring Chris Evans at the height of his powers, just before he went a bit loopy. It was irreverent, different, always felt a bit dangerous and was a fun way to get your weekend started on a Friday evening. – Or at least that’s how I remember it.

The much lauded comeback, one-off, special, celebration, whatever it was – it certainly wasn’t how I remembered it or how I want to remember it. It was all a bit dull, a bit too long, a bit rough around the edges and something that was probably left best alone.

Chris Evans himself is just too sane and long in the tooth these days to carry that kind of show off. Blur’s rendition of Coffee and TV was just too out of tune and unlistenable, Lewis Hamilton (the main guest of the evening, no less!) was just to boring and wooden. He makes Nigel Mansell seem positively enthusiastic. He makes watching paint dry seem an enjoyable way of passing time. He makes snooker seem like an extreme sport. Of all the guests you could have chosen to embody the spirit of TFI Friday’s golden years, Lewis Hamilton shouldn’t have made the shortlist, the long-list or within 50 miles of any list being drawn up by Channel 4.

As for Evans himself, well he’s just taken up the mantle of new Top Gear presenter following the departure of the rumbly-tummied, loose-fisted racist. He stated that the future of TFI was now in the hands of Channel 4 and seemingly passed the torch onto Radio 1’s Nick “Grimmy” Grimshaw, who promptly fluffed his lines when invited to try his hand at introducing a band on the show. An ominous moment for him.

He should never go back.

Gone to the Dogs

“Uproar”, “controversy” and “anger” are just some of the words which have been used today following the “revelation” that Britain’s Got Talent winners, Jules O’Dwyer and her “talented” dog, Matisse enlisted the help of a “stunt” double. Part of their £250,000 winning act featured Matisse walking a “tightrope” except it today emerged that it wasn’t Matisse performing that part of the act it was another, identical dog known as Chase.

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Angry viewers have beseiged social media networks crying “foul play” despite no poultry being used in the act. Others have complained that Jules, height-phobic canine, Matisse and all action stunt-pooch Chase as well as three-legged, sympathy mutt, Skippy had cheated second placed “magician” Jamie Raven out of the top prize. Skippy, was unavailable for comment but is reported to be under investigation by the Department for Work and Pensions as clearly being “fit for work”.

Underhanded dog trainer O’Dwyer explained to mythical, ageless, Scot, Lorraine Kelly that Matisse required a stunt double because of an apparent “fear of heights”. Rumours also circulated today of a long-held jealousy between the two dogs and a discrepancy in pay between them which sees Matisse earning 10 times the amount of Chase. Both dogs remained tight lipped today but were spotted taking a dump on a kids football pitch near Hackney. It also emerged that O’Dwyer will be facing investigation for impersonating a police officer, albeit “particularly badly”.

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Former Britain’s Got Talent winner and canis lupus familiaris, Pudsey, of dog act, Ashleigh and Pudsey, today issued a statement: “I, Pudsey of dog act Ashleigh and Pudsey do not wish to comment on any rival dog act, suffice to say that I can confirm I do all of my own stunts. I also don’t require a dog with a disability to make myself more popular and would like to make it abundantly clear that I am, as ever, available for panto again this year.”

Responding to the storm a source close to ITV said, “If the public feel conned by the dogs then it’s their luck out really. I mean they voted for a dog act to win a talent show! Again!!!” Laughing hysterically, the two legged, media savvy, homo-sapien continued, “Just how stupid are the British public? They even voted for a magic act when magic doesn’t even exist. Oooooh, is Hogwarts real is it?!! Magic died as entertainment as soon as Paul Daniels ditched the wig. Some people even think Teller from Penn and Teller actually can’t speak!”

Teller from Penn and Teller was unavailable for comment.

Today, I’m Supporting Oisin Tymon

Today, I’m supporting Oisin Tymon.

Oisin Tymon, just like the majority of us do, was going about his job as best he could. By all accounts it’s a job he’s very good at and relishes having the opportunity to do. Indeed, despite being subjected to a 20 minute verbal tirade of abuse and being punched in the face by a bigoted, bullying man-child, Tymon in the BBC Director General’s own words has, “behaved with huge integrity throughout.” Furthermore, it appears Tymon’s first thoughts were not actually about the horror he had endured or for revenge against the Establishment’s favoured beer-bellied bully. He wasn’t thinking of suing the BBC or selling his story to a tabloid. All he worried about was that he might no longer be able to continue to do his job.

The facts about what the BBC Top Gear producer endured on a patio area of the Simonstone Hall Hotel, North Yorkshire, on the 4th March 2015 are very clear and contained within the BBC’s report into the incident published today:

  • The physical attack lasted around 30 seconds and was halted by the intervention of a witness.
  • It is the case that Oisin Tymon offered no retaliation.
  • The verbal abuse was directed at Oisin Tymon on more than one occasion – both during the attack and subsequently inside the hotel – and contained the strongest expletives and threats to sack him. The abuse was at such volume as to be heard in the dining room, and the shouting was audible in a hotel bedroom.
  • Derogatory and abusive language, relating to Oisin Tymon and other members of the Top Gear team, continued to be used by the hot food, mafia mouthpiece inside the hotel, in the presence of others, for a sustained period of time.
  • Following the attack, Oisin Tymon drove to a nearby A&E department for examination.
  • It was not disputed by the Chipping Norton thug or any witness that Oisin Tymon was the victim of an unprovoked physical and verbal attack. It is also clear that Oisin Tymon is an important creative member of the Top Gear team who is well-valued and respected. He has suffered significant personal distress as a result of this incident, through no fault of his own.

The facts unquestionably speak for themselves and the light entertainment perpetrator of a violent physical assault on a respected, hard working colleague has been rightly sacked. It was the only course of action wasn’t it? To be fair if this had happened to one of us at our workplace, whilst we were trying to do our job, the best we could, we would at the very least expect the same outcome to befall our aggressor.

We would. Wouldn’t we?

Well, bizarrely not everyone seems to think so. Tymon, who had already been subject to abuse on social media, received another barrage of it again today when the BBC announced it had dispensed with the services of the Poster Boy of the “It’s Political Correctness Gone Mad Brigade.” Apparently, Tymon, according to some, deserves to die for being subject to an unprovoked attack by a moron. Apparently, it’s actually far more important that a show about cars, (which in reality hasn’t been a show about cars for years) continues with its casually racist host whatever crime he may commit against a fellow human being just trying to do his job, like any of us might try to do in our own daily lives. Apparently, this is an agenda against the Chubby Brown of a “factual” motoring magazine, orchestrated by the left-wing, liberal, Marxists of the BBC who don’t want the public to have access to the “Spiritual King” of the common sense man.

In 2011 a study of 6,000 staff revealed that six out of 10 public sector workers in the UK had either been bullied themselves or had witnessed bullying in their workplace. The majority of those polled – 53% – said they would be too scared to raise concerns over bullying in the current climate of job and spending cuts, compared with just 25% two years previously.

Right wing political parties and their cronies want to abolish worker’s rights and particularly want to scrap ordinary working people’s rights, such as Oisin Tymon’s or yours or mine to be able to do our jobs as best we can without the fear of being unfairly dismissed. They want employers to be able to do as they please. Punched in the face for trying to do your job? Well it was probably all your fault wasn’t it? You no doubt deserved it or ran willingly into the clenched fist of your employer begging for your P45!

This whole tawdry incident isn’t really about a 54 year old and his “talent” or his popularity or his contract or anything to do with him.

It’s actually about us. It’s about 2015 and where we are as a society and how we got here. It’s about what’s acceptable to us and how we behave and how we should expect to be treated. It’s about respect and values. It’s about human decency.

That’s why today, I’m supporting Oisin Tymon.

PHWOOAARRRRR!!! It’s your soaraway, sensational Liverpool Echo!!!

This appeared on the Liverpool Echo’s twitter feed the other day…

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Now, apart from this not actually being even in the ballpark of news or even newsworthy for that matter, I find this really odd coming from the Liverpool Echo, to say the least!

This is a local paper that has, quite rightly, since Hillsborough stood against The S*n, Kelvin McKenzie and the gutter journalism that followed that tragedy. Yet here is the Echo acting as if it was some shoddy, gutter tabloid clone.

The full article wouldn’t look out of place in The S*n, The Star or the Daily Mail. “Paddy McGuinness’ Scouse wife shows off her amazing figure in series of selfies”, enthuses the headline. “The mum-of-two showed off her rock hard abs and peachy posterior in the shots,” it continues with all the jaw dropping pictures . “Christine shared a snap in a tiny neon pink sports bra and knickers…In another revealing shot, the former Miss Liverpool rocked a matching black sports bra and knickers as she insisted that: “Sweat is sexy”.”

This from the paper who revelled in The S*n’s apparent axing of Page 3. Their regular columnist Paddy Shennan in an article about this talks of surprise that “the paper was still stuck in its own perverted time warp” and likens the S*n’s stance on Page 3 to a line from a Billy Bragg song, “It Says Here” – “Where they offer you a feature on stockings and suspenders, next to a call for stiffer penalties for sex offenders.” In the meantime, whilst Shennan declares “women are still fighting for equality” we at least can take heart in Christine’s revealing tiny neon pink sports bra and knickers!

Perhaps the Echo should just be more honest and say something like, “Phwooaarrrrr! Readers chance to ogle over semi-naked celebrity wife! All the revealing, saucy, sexy shots here after all it’s OK you didn’t have to buy The S*n for them!”

What next for the Liverpool Echo? Quite apart from the mindless ramblings of whoever Pete Price happens to have met this week and has deemed his latest “celebrity friend” or who can forget “model and columnist” Amanda Harrington’s take on the issues of the day such as her “fantastic teeth whitening treatment.” How we miss Amanda’s musings. She may have been no Christopher Maloney, (incidentally, he has his own talent school. Oh the irony!) but she knew lots of words. Perhaps as many as 70.

If the Liverpool Echo is serious about its core values such as “Stand up for Liverpool and its people” and “Build trust and respect with our readers” then it can’t in the same breath churn out garbage that without the Echo banner wouldn’t look out of place in those papers that have done so much damage to Liverpool and its people over the years.

Jo Brand and the Art of Celebrity Discomfort

Forget selfies! Selfies are so last week! Trends change quicker than opposition teams scoring at Old Trafford. (#MoyesIn) Whilst selfies have been everywhere recently, such as at award ceremonies, second-rate talent shows and clogging up your social media feeds for days on end, the new selfie is the craze for celebrity discomfort.

In the age of multi-channel TV, social media and rolling news you might well be thinking that celebrity discomfort is not an entirely new thing and you would be right of course. The media and the viewing public love to see celebrities squirm. Celebrity Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, Celebrity Love Island, Hole in the Wall and of course that one where David Beckham’s kiss and tell whats-her-face got a bit too intimate with a pig.

Things have moved on though since these halcyon days of reality celebrity squirmathons. Recently a whole new level of celebrity discomfort has been reached as anyone who sat through Jo Brand trying to present BBC One’s The One Show will testify. Last week for two agonisingly long half-hours Jo brought all the warmth, charm and traditional sofa-driven, teatime faux chumsiness of a piranah in a packed swimming pool having not eaten for a month. She couldn’t have looked more uncomfortable on the One Show’s gaudy sofa if she had been asked to complete the whole show stark naked whilst the smiling assassin himself, Matt Baker, constantly threw itching powder at her. I haven’t seen someone look so miserable, irritated and less pleased to be somewhere than when Gordon Brown had to apologise to “that bigoted woman”. She made Jeff Brazier look like TV gold. Yes it was that bad! Never before has a nation breathed such a collective sigh of relief when Gabby Logan appeared to take over the guest host role.

Jo Brand however, isn’t exactly my point. The reason she was there in the first place was because Matt Baker’s usual TV wife, (do people still use that phrase?) Alex Jones was crying her way up an “impossible climb” in aid of Sport Relief. Here’s where the trend I’m talking about kicks in. We’ve always had a tradition of celebrity fundraising and in itself this is no bad thing, but recently the fundraising efforts have become centred all around “the challenge”. That challenge has to be immense too. Gone are the days when a marathon would do! If you’re a celebrity and you want to raise money nowadays we need to see a journey. It can’t be any old journey either, it has to involve one or more of the following:

  1. Months of tough preparation with a trainer who will push the celebrity to the limit whilst also being available to be a shoulder to cry on.
  2. A complete pre-challenge wobble, culminating in a breakdown with lots of tears and repeated use of the phrase “I can’t do this!”
  3. A pre-challenge injury or injuries which are extremely painful, involve tears and preferably even more painful treatment which is just serious enough to add some jeopardy to the challenge without being so serious the challenge can’t be started in the first place.
  4. Some sort of mental stress that causes the celebrity to reveal personal information about their lives whilst in a vulnerable state leading to more tears.
  5. The celebrity is close to breaking point and quitting the challenge mid-way through only to be comforted and refocused by a celebrity friend or random well-wisher, leading to more tears and the repeated use of the phrase, “I can do this!”
  6. An injury during the challenge creating heightened jeopardy but still just not quite enough for the challenge to be abandoned.
  7. The moment of sheer joy at the completion of the challenge, leading to uncontrollable tears, partial collapse or mental breakdown and the all important “big cheque” moment.

In recent weeks we’ve had Alex Jones’ journey of sobbing up a mountain and Davina McCall’s week long pain induced, hypothermia fueled sob-athon cycling, swimming and running across the UK. Ordinarily, I like a bit of celebrity suffering as much as the next person but I’m just a little uncomfortable with just how far people will expect celebrities to go before they decide to part with their hard earned cash in the name of charity. No doubt the bar will be raised higher next time around, but just what will we be forced to watch? Mel and Sue spending a week in a lion enclosure with only a toothbrush to help them? Andrew Neil jumping over 43 parked double-decker buses on a motorbike whilst being shot at by the SAS? Claudia Winkleman locked in a perspex box for a month without access to any eye-liner?

Whatever the next big challenge is, I just hope Jo Brand isn’t called upon to fulfill the guest host duties.