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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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.