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?

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.

Speculating on the Speculation

The position of “Royal Correspondent” must be one of the most soul destroying things imaginable. Perhaps even worse than that of “Liberal Democrat Campaign Manager”. All those years at university studying journalism and for what? Hanging about outside somewhere or other, spending your days speculating.

Yesterday’s Royal Birth has been a classic case in point. The “Royal Correspondents” were all stood, for most of the day outside the “Lindo Wing” of St Mary’s Hospital. Waiting.

Waiting for anything to happen and filling in the gaps with speculation and speculating on the speculation with doses of the painfully obvious thrown in for good measure:

When the baby might be due (probably anytime now), what the Queen thinks (expected to be delighted), what the doctors and nurses are doing (likely to be attending to Her Royal Highness with great care and attention), when will the new arrival have her first poo (expected to be around 5 and rumoured to be potentially sloppy and on the whiffy side)…

I could go on and on and on. They did! ITV cancelled their local news coverage to speculate in this manner for a further 20 minute “special”. Look at the BBC’s poor old Nicholas Witchell. Prince Charles famously was overheard to say he “couldn’t bear” him. Nowadays, Witchell looks like he can’t bear himself. He looks dead behind the eyes. Too much speculation can do that to a guy. Too much of the blindingly obvious can eat away at someone.

I guess he goes home at the end of a hard day watching a bunch of priviledged burdens on the state, waiting for them to do something mildly interesting feeling depressed and remembering the days of anchoring the 6 o’clock news, breaking stories such as the Zebrugge disaster and sitting on lesbians.

Then again I’m just speculating.

ITV Leader’s Debate Liveblog

18:38  Preview Hype

The national evening news and local news are building this up as best they can. They can’t resist comparing the set to that of a gameshow. So far The Weakest Link and 15 to 1.

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19:09  Mind the Farage

Nigel Farage of the UKIPs will be hoping for a better performance this evening than his appearance on Radio 4 this morning. He couldn’t decide if he wanted no cap on immigration or a target of 30,000 or a cap of 50,000.

According to the man himself he’s done no preparation for the debate tonight. Not sure if he’ll be allowed to bring a pint onto the set with him.

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19:22  Green with Envy?

Any sort of performance from Natalie Bennet of the Green Party would be welcome. Will Green activists be wishing Caroline Lucas was actually their leader?

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19:28

Nick Clegg was the outright winner of these debates last time out. What a difference 5 years can make though! Clegg, according to a recent poll is under threat of losing his own seat. Can he turn things around here and does anybody actually agree with him about anything anymore?

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19:45  Goody Two Shoes

Apparently Ed Milliband has two pairs of shoes for tonight’s event. His advisors couldn’t decide which pair to get for him earlier so bought both. Following the “two kitchens” revelations maybe Ed just loves things being in twos. Perhaps he’s a big fan of Noah?

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19:51  10 minute warning

Just 10 minutes to go and the atmosphere couldn’t be more tense. My wife can’t find her phone and she’s going out in a minute! As for the debates well, there’s now about 8 minutes to go.

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19:57  From Salmond to Sturgeon

It’s a big night for Nicola Sturgeon for the SNP too. Her predecessor would have revelled in this tonight. Can she prove just as charismatic?

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20:05  We’re off!!!

Natalie Bennett actually sounds naturally quite annoying doesn’t she? And hey what a surprise Nigel Farage heads straight to the immagration counter!

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20:06  Clegg’s Mistakes

Nick Clegg has “made mistakes”. Something tells me he’ll likely pay for them in this election!

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20:08  Leanne Wood

Oh look! It’s Leanne Wood. You know, Leanne… Leanne Wood. I think she’s from Wales isn’t she?

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20:12  Milliband Slip

Ed Milliband looks nervous. Slipping slightly over his initial opening speech. Must do better!

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20:13  Leanne Wood

The Welsh lady wants to put more funding into public services. I like her. What’s her name again?

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20:15  Pintless

Nigel Farage looks undressed without a pint in his hand doesn’t he? YIKES!!! NIGEL FARAGE IS NAKED!!! LOOK AWAY!!! LOOK AWAY!!!

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20:17  So far, so slow

This is all very civilised isn’t it? If it carries on like this I’ll be reaching for the Blue Nun!

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20:22  Business has just picked up

Nicola Sturgeon has said “I back Ed on this.” Could this be the next “I agree with Nick”?

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20:26  Here’s Johnny!!!

Everyone is fighting for Johnny’s attention right now. Look at his face just look at his little face!!!

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20:28  Subliminal Messages

David Cameron’s podium is positioned on the far right. Is it a sign?

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20:32  The Northern Ireland Question

There won’t be one as nobody from Northern Ireland has been invited. Only Eamonn Holmes seems to have noticed.

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20:36  1st Question Done

I can’t see, based on the 1st question how anyone is going to be seen as winning this debate. It’s all a bit slow. It’s a bit gloves on and frankly a bit dull. Someone hand Nigel Farage a pint and see if he can provoke Nicola Sturgeon into a square go in the car park.

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20:42  Never Forget

Cameron may never forget how the NHS helped his kids but he may forget his kids after a few drinks in the pub.

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20:46  Health Tourism

I don’t think Health Tourism will catch on personally. Once you’ve seen one hospital you’ve seen them all really.

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20:51  This hour’s dragged

No punches have really been landed here have they? This almost makes you want to see a return of Des O’Connor Tonight.

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20:53  Northern Ireland

Nicola Sturgeon gives a shout out to Northern Ireland! Someone remembers. Eamonn Holmes can sleep easier tonight now.

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20:56  SNP 2 The Rest 0

Nicola Sturgeon has got a laugh and a round of applause. Those tough stand-up gigs in Glasgow must be paying off. Stony silence elsewhere though. SNP winning and most of us watching can’t vote for them!

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21:00  On the Attack

Ed Milliband clearly looking to attack David Cameron at every opportunity. Cameron’s refusal to debate one on one with him a tactical mistake in my view and Milliband making the most of it.

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21:11  Damned lies, statistics and Farage

Farage blaming housing crisis on immigrants now. He seems to have forgotten his beloved Thatcher’s social housing sell off in the 80s.

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21:19  Clegg Watch

Nobody has come out and said “I agree with nick yet” although Cameron has said that he has “made an important point”. If this was the cabinet Cameron would have ruffled his hair and fed him a biscuit.

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21:28  Format

I think the public should have been given the opportunity to get rid of a few of the leaders by now. Maybe a trap-door underneath them. Couldn’t some of the Northern Irish Leaders made a brief appearance by satellite, or a cameo appearance as a plinth or something?

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21:32  Tuition Fees

Nick Clegg has mentioned tuition fees. Sssssshhhh! I think he got away with it. Don’t mention the poor!

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21:35  3-0 SNP

Another smattering of applause for Sturgeon. Scotland haven’t seen this sort of result on English soil since they stole the goalposts at Wembley!

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21:39  CHAOS

In a total breakdown Clegg lands a blow on Milliband, who lands one on Cameron. It was like pass the blow out there for a minute. I almost put down the Blue Nun.

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21:42  Score

If you’re keeping score it’s SNP 3, Liberal Democrats 1, Labour 1, The Rest 0.

20 minutes left and maybe this is going to lead to a barnstorming finish!

Maybe not.

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21:47  HECKLER! HECKLER!

I just spilt the Blue Nun as a heckler gets stuck into David Cameron. Maybe there will be a late surge…

SNP 3, Labour 1, Liberal Democrats 1, Heckler 1, The Rest 0.

Vote Heckler!

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21:49  Farage

Farage looks undressed without his usual tweed outfit. YIKES!!! FARAGE IS NAKED!!! FARAGE IS NAKED!!! LOOK AWAY!!! LOOK AWAY!!!

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21:51  Late Rally

Cameron gets a round of applause too now landing a blow on Milliband with the Labour safe haven of zero hours contracts. Only putting him on terms with the heckler though.

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21:53  Clegg

Clegg basically arguing for a vote to sit on the fence. In fairness he’s low on energy now. He’s gone 2 hours without Cameron feeding him a biscuit.

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21:56  Northern Ireland

The Greens mention Northern Ireland now. Someone could at least point to it on a map or something. For Eamonn Holmes’ sake at least.

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21:59  Farage

Farage the common man. Most common men are investment bankers and esablishment figures aren’t they?

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22:01  That’s it!

The shaking hands at the end looked a bit awkward. Looked like that kind of forced politeness at a New Year party. At least they didn’t swap shirts. Nigel Farage looked undressed enough as it was.

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22:20  Millsey’s Final Thought

Well, that was a bit flat really wasn’t it? If anything Nicola Sturgeon won for me, proving why Scotland will probably overun Labour up there. Not great for the rest of us who can’t vote SNP though. Cracking surprise entry from the heckler. I imagine she will have polled well! Clegg got the bounce at the last election debate but can’t see anyone having a similar result this time. Farage looked like he needed a drink. I’ve not seen someone look that pale and sweaty in politics since Charles Kennedy heard last orders called. Cameron in two TV election set pieces now hasn’t really cut it. He’s not done badly by any means but together with his reluctance on the debate front he’s not looked strong. Milliband, similarly hasn’t done badly but has probaly been made to look better, again because of Cameron’s dithering on the debates. I wonder what the Northern Irish think?

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22:27  Millsey’s Final, Final Thought

Polls all over the place in terms of who won and who lost. Maybe that’s 2 hours that we just can’t get back. So, onto Question Time, This Week and probably more Blue Nun. Goodnight Great Britain wherever you are (except viewers in Northern Ireland).

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