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?

The Case for a New Smashie and Nicey

In the seventies, eighties and early nineties radio sounded a lot different. Its focus centered around DJs and their “personality”. On the whole the format didn’t really change very much and neither did the DJs. John Peel aside, the DJ would be ego driven, wacky, outspoken, cheesey or a rich, pungent cocktail of each. If you saw them at a roadshow or in a publicity photo they would be dressed with one or all of an extremely loud shirt, colourful glasses and highlighted hair. As listeners we went along with this. Frankly, we didn’t know any better or for that matter, realise what questionable activities they got up to in their spare time.

Then there was a swift awakening from our audio slumber. Video didn’t kill the radio star, but a comedy double act did! Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse created Smashie and Nicey and the truth about what we’d been fed by radio stations across the nation suddenly smacked us in the face. Almost overnight radio had dated 20 years as Smashie and Nicey ridiculed all that was supposedly (quite literally) great about the industry. Resignations, retirements and sackings followed whilst radio changed.

That change for a time was a welcome relief. Independent stations split their AM and FM frequencies, new licences were awarded and community radio stations added to a new found choice.

Gradually, however the airwaves have become somewhat bleak again. Independent stations have merged into all encompassing brands and local radio has almost become a thing of the past as networking has taken hold. It doesn’t matter which part of Britain you live in, chances are come 10am you’ll have to suffer Toby Anstis. Toby once won the Great British Lack of Personality Award narrowly defeating Nigel Mansell, Ken Barlow and a chair. In fairness, with the exception of the odd breakfast show, personality is a strict no-no in the radio industry these days. Presenters, (they’re not DJs anymore) are restricted in what they say, how much they can say and the time they’ve got to say it as stations chase the same demographic. Playlists are narrow and even the songs themselves are edited if they are deemed too long to fit the format.

I have friends who work as presenters today, many for a long time now. When they were younger it was their dream job. Now most tell me they don’t enjoy it anymore. (If they don’t what chance has the listener got?) Of course, radio couldn’t stay as it had been in the ego inflated decades of Fluff Freeman and co but unfortunately what we have ended up with today, by and large, is just plain bland. Take some time and listen to radio presenter’s links over a period. There won’t be many of them, they’ll be very short and they’ll amount to nothing paricularly exciting, funny or original. Radio Fab FM has been replaced by the Brand Bland Network.

We desperately need a modern day equivalent of Smashie and Nicey to shake us out of this new slumber, so we can once again realise just what dross we are being served, so that talent can make their mark again without fear of breaking convention. We’ve switched right across the spectrum from one extreme to the other and it’s time for change.

Harry and Paul it’s time for you to save radio. Again.

I’ve got Eurosong fever Ted!

It’s that time of year again. The 2014 Eurovision song contest kicks off in about an hour’s time from Copenhagen. It’s marmite quality undeminished, this year’s competition probably doesn’t have the strongest line up of songs (if that’s actually unusual) but for me is stll one of my favourite nights of the year. Here’s my view on what to look out for from each country:

1. Ukraine – The song is likely to be annexed by Russia as masked forces impound their hamster wheel.

2. Belarus – Discounted by the bookmakers at 300-1, I think this might actually be worth an each way bet. It is lyrically terrible but has an annoyingly catchy tune. Hey! This is Eurovision for goodness sake! Incidentally, replace the chorus with the lines, “Catchy tune, terrible lyrics” and you’ll be singing it for weeks!

3. Azerbaijan – Dull ballad not made any more entertaining by the trapeze act.

4. Iceland – It’s The Wiggles meets Show Waddy Waddy! Mid-table alternative vote.

5. Norway – This is a tip for some. Personally, I think it’s a dreary, monotonous ballad. Good opportunity to put the kettle on.

6. Romania. – It’s Ovi and Paula again! They came 3rd three years ago but I don’t think they’ll do as well this time around. You can always rely on Ovi for a gimmick piano and Paula for a ridiculously long and high note. Show offs!

7. Armenia – This guy could be the Armenian Dr Who! Decent chance in a Euro-phoric dance kind of way.

8. Montenegro – It’s like Dancing on Ice, except there’s no ice or Torvill and Dean or Phillip Schofield. The song? Just concentrate on the skater!

9. Poland – I don’t think the “everyday sexism” movement has hit Poland yet. Terrible song and soft porn style staging. Where’s my washboard?

10. Greece – Beware Greeks bearing songs already popular across Europe featuring a bloke from Hackney! Features the world’s first Plinth-o-lene!

11. Austria – Eurovision has to have a central talking point. In the past we’ve had the unstable transexual, the Russian faux lesbians and of course, Jedward. This year Austria present “the bearded lady”. Ok, it’s a man, in a dress with a beard, but this Bond theme styled ditty is one of the hot favourites.

12. Germany – Taking it seriously this year but the song is only OK and the singer can have tuning issues. No Bayern Munich!

13. Sweden – Powerful ballad and another hot favourite with the bookies. Went down very well on Tuesday’s first semi-final so hard to see past this one.

14. France – Ah! The French. The hilarious French. The zany, witty, comic land of France. Nul point!

15. Russia – Twins! Everyone loves twins don’t they? Well, apparently not if they’re from  Russia these days! Boooooooooooo!

16. Italy – Pink tribute act.

17. Slovenia – An angry looking woman with a flute. She could have someone’s eye out with that!

18. Finland – Bland identikit boy-band probably looking forward to avoiding paying tax in the near future, as I believe is the boy-band tradition. Allegedly.

19. Spain. – Dark horse entry from Spain who usually enter a joke act of the unfunny variety. Not a bit of it this year. Well worth an each-way bet on a strong ballad.

20. Switzerland – Roger Whittaker meets Mumford and Sons.

21. Hungary – Running, running, running to make another cuppa. Two sugars please!

22. Malta – The Corrs meet Mulligan and O’Hare. Next!

23. Denmark – Nice enough but stinks of not wanting to win and being to forced to host this money sapping contest again. Look what happened to Ireland!

24. The Netherlands – It comes to something when one of the best songs in the whole contest is a Dutch Country & Western duet!

25. San Marino – Have a lie down. You’ve come this far and you’ll need all your energy for the voting. Dull!

26. United Kingdom – Last up it’s us plucky Brits. At least this year, the Russians have slammed us in the most hated country in Europe stakes. Mid-table respectability beckons.

So, there you go. Sadly there is no man in a perspex box this year and the Belgian Go Compare man didn’t qualify. Take it easy. It’s going to be a long night!