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.

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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?