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.


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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