The Saturday Night Artifice
Friday, June 19, 2009 by Steve Williams
What boring Saturday night telly we’ve got at the moment.
Since Britain’s Got Talent pulled in eighteen million viewers the other week, everyone seems to be biding their time until The X Factor comes back. The current tedium is best exhibited with Totally Saturday on BBC1, a programme that exhibits all the originality its title would suggest – that is, none at all.
Totally Saturday is a completely generic Saturday night show, where stuff happens, yes, but it’s rarely very interesting and never seems to have much of a point. Punters are pulled out of the audience, games are played, pop stars sing and none of it sticks in your mind. Everything you’ve come to expect from Saturday night telly is here, and that’s the problem – you know exactly what’s going to happen and it’s not good enough to disguise its by-the-numbers conception.
The big flaw, I’m suggesting, with Totally Saturday is its lack of confidence – it simply doesn’t believe in what it’s doing. One of the games involves members of the public having to dress up as giant Scrabble letters and rearrange themselves into the answers to questions. Silliness is something that certainly has its place on Saturday nights, and on something like Hole In The Wall or Total Wipeout it works because everyone knows the concept is ridiculous, they accept it, and they launch into it with gusto. On Totally Saturday, though, nobody’s heart seems in it – the punters seem embarrassed having to do it, Graham seems embarrassed asking them and, therefore, you can’t help but feel embarrassed for everyone while watching it. In an attempt to keep a bit of dignity, this half-arsed approach at wackiness just makes it come out even more undignified.
Like Passport to Paradise, a similarly iffy Saturday night show, you could probably stick any of the items on Saturday Night Takeaway and they wouldn’t seem out of place, but Ant and Dec, and the production itself, has an enthusiasm and energy which can prop up the flimsiest of features, and they believe in what they’re doing. I don’t think you get that with Graham Norton, much as you didn’t with Johnny Vaughan, so everything falls flat.
People say that Saturday night telly is on the up these days, but outside the big guns – The X Factor, Strictly, Doctor Who – what else is there? Not much. It looks like if it’s not a variation on one of these three (see The One and Only, my vote for the worst show on BBC1 last year), nobody can be bothered. That’s why I thought I’d take advantage of the comments boxes by asking you what sort of light entertainment you’d like to see on a Saturday night. Has anyone got a winning format?
I’ve been thinking about this, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed most on Saturday nights recently has been the bits in Ant vs Dec in Takeaway where the boys have to learn how to be weathermen, or write a song in a week and perform it live. This can often be extremely amusing and maybe there’s something to be said for a series where celebs are challenged to put on a show or learn new skills? I suppose a similar idea is behind last year’s flop, Thank God You’re Here, but I reckon that show didn’t really work thanks to its fixed, rigid and rather boring format. If you had something like that, but broadcast live, a much looser format and a greater sense of messing around, it could work, I reckon.
Not enough of a spectacle? I’ve always been impressed by the level of creativity shown by the contributors to Adam and Joe’s 6 Music show, creating songs and videos and so forth, so let’s put that on the telly. Let’s get members of the public to write songs, perfom comedy sketches and so on, and we can all vote for them. To make it 360 degrees as all new formats should be, let’s give viewers a challenge - make a comedy film or write a song based on a topical story or something – then get them to upload it to the website, let visitors rate them and invite the best to create something new live on air. Why not invite some celebrities to join the teams as well to bring their talents to the mix and put them in an unusual situation?
OK, so this format’ll need a bit of work, we can thrash out the specifics in development – but it’s coming up with something different and getting the public involved in a creative way. But has anyone got any other formats they’d like to see over the beans on toast? The comments boxes are all yours…