Writing by James

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Terry Wogan killed the chat show

WARNING: This is a rant

I don’t usually write stuff like this… personal stuff… you know…

But this assertion has been going round my head for a few years now.

You could call this blog post: “From Parkinson to Kyle in a few easy steps”.

So, excuse me for a minute, or if you want to know why Terry Wogan killed the chat show, read on.

In the ’70s

In the ’70s, as far as I can recall, chats shows were populated by interesting people… intelligent people. They used to come on to these shows because they genuinely has something to say. They gave a little of themselves to the viewer, providing an insight into their lives, their beliefs; we understood them as people, not celebrities.

It used to be a little like this.

(Longer version here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkUyDr97NU4)

For me, that’s a real chat show.

In comes Wogan

Unfortunately, in 1985, Wogan’s chat show was moved from its Saturday night slot to a thrice-weekly weekday evening slot. And that was the beginning of the end. Now, I’ve nothing personal against Terry Wogan, let me make that clear, but there is a reason that he was voted the UK’s most popular and least popular man in 1992.

When the show was on three times a week, apart from boring children like me stupid, it also created a lot of space that needed to be filled. You could no longer select from the finest guests, mixing and matching them for the best result and taking time to prepare thoughtful and illuminating questions; you just had to take whoever you could get to fill the time.

So in came the fillers, the celebrity endorsements, the non-entities with nothing to say, and at worst, the embarrassments. These were people who knew that they had the upper hand. The time needed to be filled and they would fill it, for a price.

Most of these people will be forgotten now, but a few still linger in the memory.

Or

These were embarrassing, but worse was the ones we don’t remember. The guests that should never have been there in the first place.

Out goes Wogan, in comes worse

Eventually Wogan was canned – the show, not the man – but that wasn’t the end of the story. The floodgates had now opened, now anyone could be a guest, regardless of talent or intelligence or a modicum of self-respect. And there was always the endless flow of celebrity endorsements – thinly veiled adverts that purported to be interviews. Most of the time they could have just shown a picture of the book or the trailer for the film.

The worst of these was the cringe-worthy interview with Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger during the opening of the first Planet Hollywood in London, the three of them parading around in endorsed baseball caps and jackets. We learnt nothing about them except for their restaurant and the titles of their next movies. Michael Aspel was the unfortunate ‘interviewer’. Feel the cringe at 4 minutes and 15 seconds, as Don Johnson and Melanie Griffiths get involved.

And further down…

Finally we reach rock bottom. Jeremy Kyle – the UK’s answer to Jerry Springer.

I’m speechless, witness the spectacle that is ‘Mad Dog Deon’ and his ‘talent’: a skull face tattoo.

Or, to make you proud to be human, Charlotte and her measured reaction to being accused of cheating on her partner.

It’s mind-boggling. It’s almost unbelievable.

How far we’ve come, and how far we’ve delved into the gunky morass that is the general public. There’s nothing to aspire to here, only a sense of schadenfreude and ill-judged superiority. Maybe there is an argument for the ‘dumbing down’ of TV. If so, it only makes it more important that we strive to save channels like BBC Four that offer an alternative to this guff. Because, in the end, that’s exactly what it is.

Thanks Terry.


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RE: The Walking Dead – A call to Frank Darabont

This is a call out to Frank Darabont, a personal plea from me to him.

The first season of The Walking Dead came to a conclusion on UK terrestrial TV a few weeks back. Sitting back now, I can honestly say I enjoyed it; it was entertaining. But here’s the plea: Frank, please, MORE ZOMBIES!

The cast of the Walking Dead - Season 1

I don’t say this because I am a fan of gore and viscera (although a disclosure: I am).

I’m not saying this because I’m some sort of horror genre fascist that only believes there is one true way to make a zombie movie (or mini-series in this case).

I’m saying this because, if you don’t have enough Zombies, it simply doesn’t work. Zombies aren’t like other screen monsters.

Vampires have strength, charm and intelligence. Werewolves have an unstoppable hunger and rage. Alien’s aliens are streamlined assassins. Alone, any one of these is a reason to be scared.

Zombies aren’t all powerful, on their own they’re not even particularly menacing. They simply shuffle around moaning until they rot and fall to pieces.

But, get a whole bunch of them together in a confined space and suddenly they are another matter altogether. It’s no surprise that the the two best scenes in The Walking Dead are those where we had a horde of the undead descending upon our survivors. In episode 1 our hero is riding through a deserted Atlanta, Georgia, on a horse he has appropriated from a nearby farm, when he rounds a corner to find himself facing row upon row of zombies. They turn and advance on him as a pack, desperate for flesh, eventually surrounding him whilst he hides underneath a tank. He escapes, but only just. I won’t tell you what happens to the horse, but I think you can guess. A few episodes later, the survivors are attacked in their camp with predictably gory results.

Walking Dead - Rick and his horse get a surprise in Atlanta

Why are these the best scenes from the series? Because implied threat spills over into actual violence, reminding you that these people are living in constant danger.

Zombie movies are rarely about the zombies themselves, they are usually human stories – love, loss, treachery, betrayal, hope, redemption. The zombies are the backdrop, the ever-present threat that pushes the intensity of these stories up an extra notch, that take them out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Shaun of the Dead is a romantic comedy, with zombies – what does it take to make you realise how much you love someone? Day of the Dead is about the conflict between science and violence, with zombies – it asks how should we solve our problems and which is the better route forward. And Land of the Dead is a story of class struggle, with Zombies.

The Walking Dead has the cast and the characters to generate enough storylines, but it also needs to remind us that they are not living in the safe, familiar world we are used to if it is to keep our attention.

So for that reason, for Season 2, please, MORE ZOMBIES!