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The Christmas Show

Friday, December 5, 2003 by

To paraphrase Michael Grade, there’s little better than the smell of a TV schedule becoming saturated with the spirit of Christmas. Studios getting furnished with lavish decorations, drama series building up to pivotal cliffhangers, rumours in the air about how this or that channel are planning to wheel out the big guns… it all fuels the expectation of a bumper period of telly ahead. Which is all the more reason to lament the existence of The Christmas Show, which is currently injecting teatimes with doses of humbug, Scrooge-like in proportion.

Even from a simple visual point of view, this is a programme profoundly depressing to watch. Rather than adopt one “look” and apply it throughout the programme, those in charge of The Christmas Show‘s format and design seem to have gone out of their way to assemble a magpie’s nest of the most irreconcilable ideas imaginable. Against a series of gaudy, lurid set-piece backdrops, all decked out in painfully unforgiving primary colours, every possible sparkling, twinkling, light-reflecting bit of junk is suspended, strung, twirled and garlanded. Giant plasma screens relay images of a dingy and dirty Oxford Street, heaving with shoppers and traffic: surely one of the most unappealing sights imaginable on a dark December evening. Nothing is permitted to remain too subtle, too understated, too co-ordinated – a policy which, while rendering the programme’s set a hideous cacophony of poor taste, matches the ethos of its presentation perfectly.

The two hosts, Eamonn Holmes and Tess Daly, conduct their on-screen relationship in wholly glacial terms. This pair was presumably thrown together in an effort to emulate some of the warmth chemistry that has come to exist between fellow ITV1 daytime odd couple Des O’Connor and Melanie Sykes. The reality has turned out to be somewhat different: this duo can barely deliver the shortest of links without talking over each other, spend most of their time standing as far apart as the camera allows, and express a violent disinterest in prosecuting the task in hand.

Holmes devotes as much time as he can be bothered to developing a line in hand-me-down Wogan-esque blarney, but which merely ends up making him sound shifty and petulant. “Let’s get the party started, as Pink would say,” he drawled at the start of today’s show, before choosing to introduce special guest Basil Brush as “everybody’s favourite bartender,” a singularly inappropriate and meaningless remark. After trying a half dozen times to raise a laugh with the phrase “on the piste”, he took to angrily wrapping his knuckles on a nearby tabletop in what appeared to be a bizarre kind of applause.

Where Wogan can get away with being absent-minded, self-consciously inane or downright suggestive towards his co-hosts, Holmes lacks the charm and dignity to try the same thing and not end up looking objectionable. So whether seeming to forget the programme wasn’t on at weekends, curiously professing “I wish I was Danish”, or accusing Tess Daly of wearing decorated dog collars around her thigh, the end product was always the same: a sense of discomfited bemusement on the part of Holmes, a nonplussed silence from everyone else in the studio, and a cry of despair from at least one person watching at home.

It’s hard to outrank Holmes in terms of all-round uselessness, but Tess certainly gives it a try. Whatever the circumstances, it’s dreadfully hard for her to avoid giving an impression of having only cast an eye over her script just seconds before going to air, or struggling to think up any kind of spontaneous remark that isn’t desperately clich├ęd. She responded to Holmes’ thigh-related saucery with a half-hearted, “Oooh, you liar – your pants are on fire.” When her co-host uttered a quick “ho, ho, ho!” she came back with “hey, hey, hey.” Faced with the pivotal task of giving the big name guest of the day Sheryl Crow a suitable welcome, Tess opted for the one question guaranteed to get things off to a bleak start: “Are you looking forward to Christmas, Sheryl?” Unbowed, she later confronted another guest, an actress from The Bill, with the conversation stopper: “So, if you could kiss anyone under the mistletoe, who would it be?” to which the reply eventually came, “My husband”.

With such an agonising ping-pong of empty platitudes threaded right through the programme, energy levels on this edition of The Christmas Show rarely rose above the apathetic. Not once during the entire hour did a guest find an opening from the presenters to develop an anecdote or fashion a response that could sow a few seeds of enthusiasm. Unsurprisingly, this left proceedings decidedly downbeat, morose and, above all, positively un-festive. Sure, people were in Santa hats and there was irritating seasonal muzak playing non-stop for the duration, but it just didn’t add up to anything particularly alluring or exciting, let alone a line-up to get you into, well, a genuinely Christmassy mood.

This is actually the biggest flaw of all. The Christmas Show isn’t really that interested in Christmas. Special guests come on to plug forthcoming records or TV appearances that have nothing whatsoever to do with the festive season. We’re promised suggestions on how and where to find last-minute present ideas, but all we’re shown are ludicrously expensive specialist items which, again, could do just as well as gifts all the year round. Pre-filmed reports trailed as a glimpse into how the rich and famous celebrate Christmas turn out to be throwaway pieces about what it’s like to go skiing in Colorado and how big the beds are in Aspen. The only real nod towards the kind of thing that’s probably on viewers’ minds with just a few weeks left until the big day is a competition – but this is dispatched in such a joyless and unimaginative manner as to make you wonder why it’s even worth bothering taking part.

Removing every last tiny trace of worth and credibility from the enterprise is the knowledge that this entire lifestyle-orientated, two-handed magazine guests and gimmicks-heavy formula is being rolled out at exactly the same time on Channel 4, and with 50 times as much style and aplomb. There’s absolutely no reason to tune into The Christmas Show when you’ve an experienced, reliable alternative on the other side in the shape of Richard and Judy, who are responding to the run up to Christmas in a far more topical and entertaining fashion – besides boasting a couple of presenters who at the very least know how to talk to each other on camera.

The fact that there are now less than 20 shopping days left until Christmas might very well give some cause for concern; but the fact that there are only a dozen or so editions of The Christmas Show to try and avoid between now at December 25 is something for which we can all give season’s greetings.

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