Graham Norton, Claudia Winkleman, Alan Tichmarsh, Michael McIntyre, John Bishop - Remotely Interested: Putting ‘The Talent’ Before The Talented?

Mark Grainger 04/11/2010

Some things should never, ever be mixed. Socks and sandals are perhaps the best example but there are many more unholy cocktails to choose from, such as haemophilia and acupuncture, dirty talk and management speak (“I think we need to touch base.”) or Mel Gibson and a dictaphone. Most of these pairings stem from unhappy coincidence but over in telly land some far stranger unions are occurring with frightening regularity. What processes, for example, dictated that Steve Jones, brash face of T4, should host a sub-1970's knock off game-show? That the crotchety grumbling of Terry Wogan's Eurovision commentary should be replaced with Graham Norton's shrill tones and presumably, his sparkly jacket (we may not see it, but it's a fair bet he'll be quietly sobbing into the sleeve since he's forced to wear one for every other Saturday night clap-along-athon he hosts, you know, just so that the audience knows for certain that he's a bit camp. See also: John Barrowman).

Worst of the lot though is that somebody green-lit the notion that Alan Titchmarsh, gardener and writer of soft-focus porn novels for grannies (seriously), should be given an ill-informed, bigoted and bourgeois chat show to top off ITV's daytime triangle of sanity-collapsing evil alongside Jeremy Kyle and Loose Women. It's even worse in Titchmarsh's case, because he and his mates have managed to find a niche in the schedules where bellowing and blustering over the top of any sensible guests, such as Tim Ingham trying to defend Modern Warfare 2, before going on to bake a cake or planting some risqué shaped plants is entertaining and doesn't make you want to vomit your corneas out of your eyes.

Whether these and other, frankly, bizarre casting decisions were made as part of a drunken dare (“I dare you to get a regional presenter with very little English speaking broadcast experience to front one of our biggest shows!”) or some form of program/preesnter twister (right hand 'weekly film analysis show', left foot 'Claudia Winkleman') we'll never know, but what is even more head-thumpingly stupid is the BBC's sudden over-reliance on stand-up comics.

Back when Sachs-gate was busy sucking out what was left of Jonathan Ross's credibility (Russell Brand never had any credibility so the idea of the tawdry affair removing any from him would be akin to a mosquito trying to feast on halal meat) the Beeb imposed a crackdown on any material which could be deemed offensive to persons or groups, a fairly sweeping ban which caused many to hit out against the venerable broadcaster, and seemed directly linked to one of its edgiest regulars, Frankie Boyle, vacating his seat on Mock The Week. According to Boyle (giving an interview to a reinstated and thoroughly bored looking Jonathan Ross) he was asked not to participate in the stand-up sections of the show, despite the fact that his shocking outbursts and barrier pushing arguably brought in a great deal of Mock's audience. Instead of refusing to deal with comedians for fear of the wrath of the Daily Mail reading public though, Auntie has apparently decided to do its very best to make every single funny-man (or woman) who receives a pay-cheque from them into a piss-weak , family friendly shadow of Peter Kay, a man who's entire act consists of pointing out the obvious or nostalgic like a neglected child who's finally been let out of the basement.

Amazingly nobody on the stand-up/panel game circuit seems to have cottoned on to the fact that endorsement from The BBC is essentially a Faustian pact with their censorship department. Not so long ago, signing a record contract and changing musical direction was considered the pinnacle of selling out but keep an eye on any comedian after being giventheir own show and the results are just as soul-draining. Take Michael McIntyre for example, a funny and warm performer, who, for his Comedy Roadshow series, has been reduced to the most exaggerated and over-blown components of his act, bounding around the stage and wobbling his head like Zebedee with a nervous tick. It's still funny in places, but watch his old appearances on Mock The Week and his comments often draw nervous applause and sharp intakes of breath instead of the chucklesome cosiness that Roadshow provides.

Similar fates almost certainly loom for John Bishop (John Bishop's Britain), Rhod Gilbert (Ask Rhod Gilbert) and Stephen K. Amos (The Stephen K. Amos Show). Instead of just popping up on Qi every so often they're being given their own series on very little merit and without any real selling point. John Bishop's Britain for example was a vehicle thrown together so hastily you could just about see the PVA glue struggling to hold the stand-up and horrendously over the top “public” sections together whilst the only question anyone should be asking Rhod Gilbert is whether he read the pitch before leaping face first into his front- row seat on the deck of the Titanic. Jason Manford is perhaps the only one who will really maintain any degree of standing, as his hosting duties on The One Show are nicely offset by his continued presence on 8 Out Of 10 Cats.

The point remains though that instead of trying to find interesting, likeable and above all professional presenters, the Beeb appear determined to simply throw comics at every new format or show pitched to them, (and in some cases old ones, saying how Dara O'Briain is the new face of The Apprentice: You're Fired.) when they should be nurturing real broadcasting talent like ITV did with Ant and Dec instead of shoe-horning favourite presenters into any role or following the lazy mantra; “everyone loves a comedian”.