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?

Feeding the Beast. (Instantly)

Sue Perkins waved an enforced and indefinite goodbye to twitter this week as the Motor-freak Lunatic Fringe showered her with death threats on the popular social media tool. Her crime? She was linked, falsely as it happens, as the favourite to replace the prophet Jeremy Clarkson as the new Top Gear host. Clarkson’s disciples can’t bear any non-Clarkson replacement for Clarkson, particularly as Sue Perkins happens to be a woman and a lesbian. It’s probably just as well that she isn’t black or Muslim as burning effigies of her could well have littered some of Britain’s streets and social media timelines.

Makes you proud to be British doesn’t it?

You get hounded off twitter with death threats for having the sheer arrogance to be punched by Lord Clarkson for not providing any hot supper to his holiness. Then, for actually not being Clarkson or conforming to the bigotry of the Jesus of Chipping Norton, you can expect exactly the same treatment, if not worse. The story wasn’t even true, indeed Sue Perkins herself said of presenting the show that she, “couldn’t imagine anything worse than doing it.”

Ah, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story!!!

In 2015 that old media line probably couldn’t be more relevant. In the old days, before social media, the internet and making a career out of being a rent-a-gob scumbag like Jon Gaunt or Katie Hopkins there wasn’t much stuff about that was instant. Even instant stuff wasn’t that instant. There was instant coffee, but you still had to wait for the kettle to boil and stir the coffee in the hot water and even then bits of it would still float about the top. Similarly instant custard wasn’t quite so instant, you still had to get the amounts right and boil water and stir etc. Instant cameras were probably a bit more instant but then again you still had to wait for the picture to gradually appear and maybe have to shake the resulting photo about a bit, requiring some effort and possible wrist injury, for an image that wasn’t that great in the end. By today’s standards that definition of instant would probably be subject to the Trades Descriptions Act.

Nowadays, patience is thin and instant is king. People want stuff. Lots of it and they want it not in the future, not now, but then, just then. They need to access stuff “at the touch of a button”, “as quickly as possible”, “instantly”, “superfast”. There’s no time to waste, you must have your stuff now and be ready to move onto the next thing, and the next thing. Who wants to click on something more than once? Just give me it now, one click, speculate as you like, just give me it now before my finger falls off with repetitive mouse click injury.

There’s no time to actually research anything and form a well balanced view. We have 60 second news for God’s sake! There was a time when the opening titles of a news programme lasted longer than 60 seconds let alone the whole news bulletin! It’s instant though isn’t it? Forget any actual detail, or balance or heaven forbid actual facts. Here’s 5 news stories and the weather in 1 minute now go away and get back to watching Celebrity Flag Waving Extra with Stephen Mulhern.

Modern life has become a slave to the instant. The instant soundbite, the instant speculation, the instant social comment, instant news. In return everyone can react instantly too. We’re encouraged to instantly vote, to feedback instantly and so there is a prevalence to take information in instantly and to instantly like, hate, comment and worse still abuse.

There is a notion amongst a significant minority to read something on the internet, social media or to Google something and hit the first link that takes your fancy and believe everything in there and react instantly to it. I think some people must just move from outrage to outrage, spoon feeding themselves a diet of indignation and moral disbelief. Life has gotten faster and there’s no time to do any research anymore or to actually stop and think about consequences or hurt feelings. There’s a whole host of cowardly, faceless, “keyboard warriors” out there who revel in this new world of the instant and the ease of access that social media brings and joyously troll their way through anybody who doesn’t fit to their own personal tastes.

Don’t think this hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s being gleefully used against us. Corporate companies, politicians and media groups know it and use it to their own advantage. The same lies, rumours and spin used over and over again to be liked, retweeted and shared until it becomes the truth as people can’t be bothered to find out what the facts might actually be. Look at how popular Britain First has become on Facebook. It doesn’t out itself per se as the fascist, far right, thug merchant organisation that it truly is. You actually have to do a little research to become au-fait with that. However, it constantly churns out memes and messages about Britain and the flag and the armed forces and lies about how badly done to white British folk are done to compared to foreigners. People who by and large wouldn’t class themselves as racist or thugs or fascists gleefully like and share this far-right nonsense without batting an eyelid. It callously uses the image of Lee Rigby for its own nasty propaganda, fully aware that’s his family condemn them for using those images and his name for a fascist cause that he didn’t and would never have supported. Ah, but people won’t find that out though will they? They’ll just see the plausible message and the picture of a dead soldier and click like or share in a second. You don’t actually need to think about it, just scroll and click. (We won a war remember against fascism, that’s kind of one of the reasons we have an armed forces.)

Britain First Lite or UKIP as they are more commonly referred to has Nigel Farrage declaring himself as a “man of the people” and “anti-establishment”. “Oooooh! Look at Nigel there all dressed in tweed and with a pint in his hand everywhere he goes!” people say, “He’s one of us isn’t he? Wearing all that tweed and drinking pints of real ale all the time, whatever he does, anywhere he goes, ever. Ah yes! There he is, good old Nige and that glorious tweed that we all wear don’t we? Drinking ale, good British, real ale, in pints, wherever he goes, not litres like in France but proper British pints for tweed wearing, common sense, men of the people. There he is, “The Fage” educated at public school in South London and going on to work in the City, trading commodities, perhaps tweed or real ale, just like us, Mr Anti-Establishment himself, ready to ditch workers rights and really putting two fingers up to the man, ready to dismiss us unfairly with no cause to redress whatsoever…”

The Establishment are cynically luring working class people, in a time of austerity, to blame everybody but themselves for cuts in public services, low wages and an unprecedented housing crisis. Protecting their own (bankers, non-doms, corporate tax-avoiders) whilst blaming immigrants, “benefit scroungers”, attacking the disabled and the working poor. Classic divide and rule. Retweet, share, like and believe. Just don’t check the facts.

Someone on my Facebook timeline, a young, white, working class male, argued that Clarkson was “one of them” and “spoke for people like us”. That of course will be the same Jeremy Clarkson who writes for The S*n, is a close friend and neighbour of David Cameron, supports fox hunting and was one of the invited guests to the funeral of Margaret Thatcher.

There is a whole beast out there feeding us constant information in an instant. It is a bigger beast than ever before and it’s growing. It is largely unmoderated and completely accessible. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the internet and social media and that very accessibility and freedom. We are all feeding it in some form or another, I am doing it now by writing this. It is a beast though and it can bite. Someone feeds it some nonsense about Sue Perkins and the beast bites and claims another victim.

Don’t believe everything you read. Never has this been more relevant and true in today’s society. Except it should probably be extended to read:

Don’t believe everything you read, or see liked, shared, favourited, retweeted, blogged or googled.

There’s a beast needs feeding, right now! It’s hungry and ready to bite.