Lesley Riddoch: Ross is simply too 'big' to let others have a look in
On the back of the 10 autobiography, there are no endorsements of any kind – celebrity, media or literary. Just the following self-penned words, (shortened for space and interest). "I've been asked to speak on subjects as diverse as British sausages, Boy Scouts, gardening, the Olympics and wind farms. Clearly I have no expertise in any of these areas, but that's not to say I don't enjoy holding ill-informed opinions on matters of great importance. Even when every sensible bone in my body tells me to shut up…"
And this is the heart of the Jonathan Ross crisis – he's just too big. Bigger than Booker Prize-winning authors who modestly include some third-party opinions to encourage sales. Bigger than channels – despite the BBC's contention that 18 million is needed to keep him loyal, Ross cancelled an ITV gig this week too.
He has been allowed to become bigger than everything. That doesn't just mean there's too much Ross about. It means there's too little of everyone else. Too few opportunities for new performers to excel, while the Ross talent is amplified and boosted like a blinding supernova. Too few alternatives. Too little space for other points of view. Too much Ross-shaped talent in other top slots. Too little genuine diversity. Too little risk.
Like a fabulous but overgrown sunflower, Ross soaks up all available daylight, starves other plants of growing room and scatters his particular brand of humour like sunflower seeds to take root in every other genre, medium and platform.
He has become the Japanese knotweed of broadcasting. And instead of acting like good gardeners – thinning and pruning – station controllers have fallen into unthinking dissemination of the most vigorous weed.
Whether it's Ross the film-reviewer-cum-chat-show-host, DJ and awards presenter, Alan Titchmarsh the gardener-cum-climate-change-expert, or Fiona Bruce the newsreader-cum-Antiques-Roadshow-host, the few are overexposed at the expense of the many other perspectives we need to make sense of modern life.
No one person represents everyone. Performers are necessarily embedded in their gender, age, lifestyle, circle of friends, background and outlook. And that's fine. Edge, opinions, accents, use of language and even slight speech impediments are what distinguish a "personality" from an android. Having no shame about ideas, thoughts and impulses should be a performing strength – but only when mediated by equally confident producers, and when those performers and their world views form part of a broadcasting spectrum.
The biggest problem with the wild comedy boys of TV and radio is that they are not part of a spectrum. They have become pure white light, the only important broadcasting prism through which our society is viewed.
Sure, the UK has serious, incisive interviewers – Paxman, Naughtie, Marr, Humphrys. But for many teenagers, opinion-forming doesn't start until the news is over. What's fair and what's fair game these days is understood as much through youth-oriented comedy as adult-oriented current affairs – and that's not just a problem for TV. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, too, has been overwhelmed by comedy, as if it is the only "universal" genre.
Rossgate offers broadcasting an overdue opportunity to correct an over-reliance on laddish funnymen to connect with younger people.
Look at the long list of the comedians now waiting for the heavy hand of Aunty Beeb to stifle their creative talent. Frankie Boyle, Jimmy Carr, Chris Moyles, Sasha Baron Cohen, Dara O'Briain, David Walliams and Matt Lucas. Spot something? Give or take some hair, specs, beer bellies and accents, they are all white men of a certain age whose stage personas are dedicated to mocking everyone and everything. These guys are talented. But so are all the ethnic comedians, older men and younger women we rarely see because they aren't sufficiently Ross-like to risk on prime-time TV.
In fact, the whole debacle of the Russell Brand show poses a great challenge to "polite society" too. The duller public life has become, the more we have relied on comedians and showbiz boys to brighten it up. The duller the likely content of a programme, the more the presenter chosen must be a "name" to spark interest and lift ratings. The duller the world of the informed has become, the more the uninformed have been needed to break up the cosy cabals and point out the elephants in the corner. To say the obvious things the public is thinking, to reality-proof the eggheads.
The more politicians sit on the fence, academics cling to rarefied language and public servants speak jargon, the more comedians are needed to blast away the polite shells that protect the great and the good.
We are in a new world, post-credit crunch with a worrying tendency for puritanism and censorship. We don't need that – we need a lot more colour, honesty, straight-talking, humour and revelation in our public world instead.
This is not about gagging comedians. It's about ungagging everyone else. Broadcasting, like politics, has been boom or bust. One format or one performer has been worked to extinction, screening out the awkward voice of diversity. It's proved to be a dangerous practice for boardrooms – and no less so on TV. Middle-aged broadcasting executives obsessed with men behaving badly have delivered one-size-fits-all television.
Licence-fee payers should see nation reflected unto nation. We currently see Jonathan Ross reflected everywhere instead.