As Seen on TV
Friday, July 17, 2009 by Jack Kibble-White
The problem with panel shows is audiences have become accustomed to them being one of two things… either a bear pit in which up-and-coming comedians battle it out with soon-to-be-going comedians in an attempt to land the most comedy one liners, or frightfully sophisticated witfests involving Stephen Fry. What both of these types have in common is that they have their roots in that loose coagulation of performers referred to collectively in the 1980s as “alternative comedy.”
This is bad news for panel shows that attempt to occupy a different, more mainstream and less challenging space in the schedules – for those shows failure looks imminent. This then, is the likely fate of As Seen on TV, which after just one week has already been shifted from its prime spot on a Friday night. Its mandate appears to be to try and appeal to a wider audience, and that means knocking the hard edges off the humour and swapping out seasoned comedians for well-loved, but not necessarily very funny TV personalities.
Any panel show that features the panel pretending to actually care about their team’s score is on to a loser, and so it is here that team captain Fern Britton volubly celebrates every time she inches in front of the competition. By contrast, Jason Manford – the other team captain – doesn’t really seem to give a toss about anything. In fact he is curiously quiet on this series, acting like the proverbial fish out of water; which is all the more strange when you consider that out of all those appearing, he is the only one with any real panel show experience.
Host Steve Jones is new to the game, and very much an acquired taste. If you disliked him on T4, then his towering self-confidence at the helm of this show isn’t going to make you change your mind. It doesn’t help that his scripted material isn’t great, but even if he was knocking out comedic gems sculptured and shaped by Groucho Marx himself, as a viewer you’re natural inclination would still be to resist a titter.
With Channel 4’s You Have Been Watching proving itself earlier in the week to be the panel show about TV that actually isn’t that interested in TV, As Seen on TV has unfortunately shown itself to be equally disinterested in the medium it purports to be about. Whereas you can believe that guests on Have I Got News For You pored over that week’s red tops before taking their rather intimidating seats next to Messrs Hislop and Merton, on this show you sense the panellists have barely bothered to extract information out of an EPG, let alone read the “Tonight’s Picks” columns in their TV listings magazines.
This impression of ignorance is underlined in one round in which our panellists are challenged to recognise one of television’s less well known faces. Admittedly, Sylvia from Hi-de-Hi isn’t the type of actor to get stopped while doing her shopping in Waitrose, but surely Eggheads‘ Chris Hughes is recognisable enough not to be cast into the category of television unknowns – after all he was on telly just two days before As Seen on TV transmitted.
Of course, wishing for a panel show about telly, to actually be about telly is a folly, and also beside the point. As with Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the medium of television is just the conduit round which some supposedly entertaining pop culture-focused chat can take place. Mind you Buzzcocks does have the advantage that you can believe its host and team captains know the difference between the White Stripes and Black Flag; with As Seen on TV you have to wonder if anyone of the panellist would recognise a Python if he slapped them on a face with a fish.