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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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.

Best of Order…Please?

I was intrigued to read an article in the Edinburgh Evening News today about how the comedian Kevin Bridges had a night of his sell-out tour ruined by hecklers constantly, well, er… heckling during his performance at the Edinburgh Playhouse recently. The article’s author, Brian Ferguson, who was in attendance said, “Frankly, it was the worst-behaved audience I had witnessed in 25 years of attending events.” For those watching, solely to be entertained by Kevin’s latest stand-up tour (as well they might have not unreasonably expected), having forked out £30 for the privilege, it was probably a night to forget.

Things get worse when you realise this seems to have become a familiar problem for Kevin at other gigs; such as those in Derry, Arbroath and even, as can be seen via Trip Advisor of all things, Ludlow. (There were no such issues for “The Searchers” who performed at the same Ludlow Assembly Rooms venue with a “great atmosphere”.)

Is this just a problem for Kevin Bridges though? Perhaps the demographic he appeals to is that of a loudmouth, drunken, lout? It appears not! Brennan Reece was “throttled” in Northwich, police had to remove a man disrupting Celia Pacquola’s set in South Wales and Michael McIntyre had his show interrupted in Darlington by a woman who “kept using her phone”.

Trawling the internet there are thousands of instances of disrupting audience members. Of course, there have always been hecklers, but more recently there seems to have been a slip in what some people deem to be acceptable behaviour. Some of this is encouraged by venues who allow taking drinks into gigs as well as serving them beforehand and during the interval which leads to anything from people wandering in and out to go to the toilet during a performance to the kind of behaviour seen in Edinburgh. It’s almost as if some people seem to have forgotten basic manners and can’t actually distinguish what may or may not be just plain rude.

It’s a cultural shift which is not just affecting comedy gigs, but other areas of our lives too. Indeed, in some cases this shift has been encouraged and actively courted. Darts for example. The sport of darts was losing appeal, viewers and sponsors at a rapid rate during the late 80’s and early 90’s. Nowadays, it’s big business, largely thanks to the promotional skills of Barry Hearn. The Premier League of Darts sees the big arenas sold-out across the country to watch the likes of Phil “The Power” Taylor and “Mighty” Michael van Gerwen. The TV coverage has blossomed and there is no doubt that interest in the game has hit new heights.

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Yet, despite this, what has been done to the game of darts? Darts crowds have always shouted, cheered and if you like, heckled. It was controlled though. For the most part, common courtesy for the players dictated that all the jeering and shouting happened between the throw of the players and not when they were actually concentrating and throwing their darts. During throws there was a hush. A silence. A respect for the players. If the crowd overstepped the mark there was a phrase that the referee would use that would compel them to regain their senses and have respect for the two guys at the oche: “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Best of order please! Game on!”

I love darts but I can hardly watch it now as an ignorant mass, barely watch the game, (in fairness there’s not much you can see in such a large venue, especially when you’re pissed!) dressed in their comedy fancy dress, with their hilarious home made placards, drinking, screaming, chanting and at times abusing players throughout the game. Quite often timing their collective wisdom of jeers and bully-boy booing directly when a player is throwing or about to throw. Yes, darts is popular and growing and has a massive appeal, making lots of money. Is it actually better off for it though in sporting terms? Not for me it isn’t. It’s sold itself down the river to the lowest common denominator and is contributing to a cultural dumbing down of what’s become acceptable. Sadly other sports also seem to be following darts’ lead. The word “sport” will soon be a misnomer, unless preceded by the word “blood” as any sense of “sporting” behaviour and respect dies a very ugly death.

Elsewhere, ITV’s X Factor has provided some of the most uncomfortable viewing seen on British television since Keith Chegwin stripped off in “Naked Jungle”. The “Six Chair Challenge” section of the auditions process has been just short of a scene from the Hunger Games. It has been brutal. Again, a hyped up crowd seemingly completely comfortable to take part in a collective blood-letting, screaming abuse at contestants for telly ratings.

Is it any wonder that in Great Britain in 2015 someone can feel completely comfortable, on a packed bus, to scream racist abuse at an elderly man with a walking frame or a woman on an equally crowded bus feels equally as comfortable racially abusing a pregnant woman?

You may sneer at the link I’ve suggested, just then, between comedy shows, sport, television and two criminal instances of racist abuse. The point I’m making though is that in our daily lives, the line about what we deem as acceptable through our popular cultural influences is being degraded. What was once rude, unsporting or vulgar is beginning to become almost normal. Check out social media. Facebook and Twitter regularly indicates what a growing minority deem as an acceptable way to engage with others. It’s often not very pretty.

More “out of order” than “best of order” you might say.

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.