Aidan Smith: The chat show is dead and satire looks poorly
Maybe when it came to soberly intoning the headlines, Reggie Bousanquet's delivery could be a bit precarious, especially if the featured hotspots were difficult to pronounce, and especially if he'd been in the pub earlier in the day. And maybe Alastair Burnet possessed an unimpartial eyebrow which would rear up to reveal his true feelings on the report he'd just dispatched and perhaps he loved a cuddly story about the Royal Family a little too much. But News at Ten could never be doubted in one crucial respect: it happened every night at ten o'clock.
A nation set its watch by News at Ten, then set its Teasmade for the morning. You might have gone to bed unhappy with the state of the world but news was important; the 10pm slot told you that ITV deemed it to be. The least you could do was watch. You didn’t want to be watching anything else at that time, anyway
Indeed, if your TV suddenly started flashing up different images – say, a camp, supercilious comedian interviewing a boxer keen to show the wacky side of his personality in a screechingly bright studio – you would have assumed the worst. We had been invaded. Some sinister force (but with a strange fetish for trivia) had seized control. Life was never going to be the same. Well, last week a camp, supercilious comedian did encounter a boxer in the slot to which News at Ten first laid claim half a century ago. Is it an exaggeration to say that the programme now in this slot, The Nightly Show, has killed a way of life? Probably. But here are some rumoured casualties, presented in the old-fashioned way: Bong! The death of the chat show. Bong! The death of satire. Bong! The end of David Walliams’ career.
You know, Walliams will probably ride out the criticism and find another home for his lazy, sleazy style. But there’s no doubt that The Nightly Show is an absolute stinker. At least the host had the decency, during one of the many excruciating interviews, to turn to the camera and remark: “And they moved the news for this?”
There are two issues here. The show, being this lousy, would be a subject for debate anyway. That the most important news bulletin on one of the country’s two most-watched channels has been bumped for it throws up other questions, one of them being: how can we scoff at Americans for electing Donald Trump as their president when our broadcasters decide that the latest on Brexit (and indeed Trump) can wait while David Haye reveals how he imposes a sex ban on himself before fights, as a camel, waiting its turn in the spotlight, piddles all over the backstage?
The news on ITV now happens at 10.30. Don’t know about you but I’m normally crawling under the duvet by then. Three kids coming along in quick succession jiggered the body-clock and I’ve yet to reclaim the night. Thus I will have to go to BBC for my news fix, which tended to be where I got it most evenings, but that’s not the point. The corporation needs to be challenged. Huw Edwards needs to know he’s directly up against another newsman, rather than Martin Clunes swapping in-jokes with Walliams before The Nightly Show’s big reveal: the jug-eared actor has a new drama upcoming. On ITV naturally.
I quite enjoyed the bitchy spat between Edwards and Tom Bradby when the latter was revealed as the luscious, pouting new face of News at Ten. Bradby would snare a clutch of Sunday supplement front covers each with “hunk” in the headline. Edwards would hit back by boasting about the size of his audience. Bradby would then retaliate on air with even more smouldering, even more informality. Remember how the nation gasped when Angela Rippon cleaved her desk in two to reveal a pair of legs? If Bradby had requested his studio be half-filled with water and a wave-machine installed so he could stride over to an important graph like he was Daniel Craig playing James Bond then no-one would have been surprised. Now, having been up for a fight over the news, ITV seems to have wimped out. Alastair Burnet in the celestial green room will be throwing his most sepulchral glare. Reggie Beaujolais will harrumph and suggest they crack open another bottle and remember their ratings-topping heyday.
The Nightly Show – trialed for two months with a different presenter each week – is an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic. Sober intoning doesn’t do it for the yoof at 10pm, nor squiffy intoning. Following that disastrous start, the programme’s tieclip microphone is being passed around light entertainment circles liked an unpinned grenade. The comedian John Bishop, who takes over this week, should be less camp and supercilious. Bullishly he states: “Do you want to be miserable at ten o’clock or do you want a laugh?”
Forget about the news because it’s too depressing and enjoy The Nightly Show? Sorry, but both these things are impossible. ITV is buttressing itself against criticism by claiming there is boldness and innovation at work here. Sorry, all I see is another despairing attempt to mimic American programmes like Saturday Night Live and the various long-running chat shows. Maybe the success of a Brit in this arena, James Corden, has encouraged this, but there are far bigger budgets at play in the US with ten writers working on Corden’s monologues. Persuading Michelle Obama to sing in a car is innovation; getting an ITV actor to plug his latest ITV work elsewhere on ITV is not. “People don’t like change,” argues the network. No, it’s rubbish they don’t like.