Magazine article The Spectator

What's the Point?

Magazine article The Spectator

What's the Point?

Article excerpt

Twenty years ago it was politics, ten years ago it was journalism, but these days all the best and brightest young brains head straight for television light entertainment. The independent production companies of London's West End are surging with Oxbridge graduates, all wearing identical glasses with narrow frames and shaving their heads, whether they are going bald or not. And yet, despite this concentration of brain power, light ent. has rarely seemed so bereft of ideas. Most of the successful formats are years old, while most of the newer formats are merely variations of the successful ones. Everyone is searching, with increasing desperation, for light entertainment's Holy Grail: a programme that someone might possibly want to watch.

Nowhere is this absence more keenly felt than in ITV's Saturday-night schedules. The new autumn shows will follow in a week or two: a Cilla Black game show (if you lose she sings a song), a new run of You've Been Framed (hosted by the Fat Girl from Emmerdale), and Red Handed, in which `members of the public play pranks on friends and family' (who never speak to them again). But before this glittering lineup is unveiled, ITV has been using the summer recess to experiment with a couple of pilots for possible future series. Last Saturday's Truth or Consequences was the first, and set a standard other shows will struggle to emulate.

The idea behind Truth or Consequences was simple enough: tell the truth or face the consequences. Steve Penk, a Capital Radio DJ, was the man with the microphone, shiny suit and unidentifiable regional accent (all obligatory in these circumstances). As the titles rolled the studio audience cheered wildly, unaware of the horrors that would shortly befall them. For this was another `real people' show (cf. Confessions, Barrymore and 50,000 others) in which members of the public are ritually humiliated for the amusement of millions watching at home. People are afraid to go outdoors these days for fear of being mugged or raped or murdered, but a far more realistic threat to their well-being is posed by television light entertainment shows which want to make them look stupid. Mr Penk, who on radio has developed a reputation as a japester, honed in on his victims with almost vampiric lust.

First up was a 'game' for a couple in the audience who `know each other really well'. …

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