The Saturday Show

Saturday, September 22, 2001 by

Almost 25 years to the week, an era of Saturday morning TV has come to a close. The familiar mix that has filled the gap between 9am and noon since Swap Shop started in 1976 is no more, and, after seeing the final dire edition of Live & Kicking last week, one could argue that it didn’t end a moment too soon. It’s obvious a change was needed, but the question was what direction the new show was to go in. Will The Saturday Show reassert the Beeb’s Saturday morning supremacy?

It certainly looks different to its predecessors. The four programmes that filled this slot before all had very similar studio sets – a sofa or desk for the presenters, an area to carry out interviews, a space for a band and then lots of empty space to do features from. The Saturday Show does away with all this, using a much more conventional LE-style layout – an audience sits in tiered rows, looking on at a set which contains a sofa and two stages (“Glastonbury-style” claimed a rather desperate sounding Beeb PR person in the publicity).

The presenters have been hired to make the programme “sassy”, “rude”, “attitudinal”, etc. Dani Behr may have been seen as an odd choice – her CV is hardly that of a children’s presenter, but she isn’t as bad as you might think – she seemed to relate to the audience quite well, and she wasn’t averse to doing a silly dance or putting on a stupid costume when the need arose. She isn’t as good as Cat Deeley, obviously. Meanwhile her co-host Joe Mace is adept, but seems to lack the charm needed to become a real favourite.

But no matter, as the programme’s supposed to be “lively”, “feisty”, and so on. Nobody seems to have spotted the flaw in this plan – while Joe was quoted as saying that he would like to thank Ant and Dec for upping the average age of the audience, what happens to the young kids who want something undemanding and, shock horror, maybe even informative?

It’s fortunate then that the programme is a bit half-hearted about the whole “sexy” idea. What we’ve got is basically a remake of Hangar 17 or What’s All This Then? – a BBC-approved, sanitised version of adult TV. In this case “entertainment-led” seems to just consist of a load of games involving the audience – rather too many in fact. There’s a game with a member of the audience fighting Joe in an oversized sumo suit. There’s a game where a member of the audience is blindfolded and has to hit an oversized prop fortune cookie with an oversized prop chopstick. There’s a game where members of the audience have to walk down the stairs avoiding the ones that turn red. There’s a game where members of the audience have to answer multiple choice questions. Basically, there are too many games, and none of them are much fun for the viewers at home – in three of them there’s no way for the viewers to join in at all, we just have to watch the kids play them. Joe even introduced one of the games with a resigned-sounding “Yes, it’s another game …”

That’s not including Karaoke Kriminals, where three – yes – members of the audience are pulled up on the stage and invited to sing along to a song. The winner, chosen by a guest, gets to sing the whole song at the end of the programme. Like the rest of the programme there’s little to entertain viewers at home, as they’re not especially bad singers, nor especially good. And was I the only person who found it a bit suspicious when members of Liberty picked the winner? “What do you think of number three?”/”She was my absolute favourite.”/”So who’s your winner?”/”Number two.”

The one standout game among all the dross turns out to be Risk, the slightly controversial game where kids gamble their prized possessions on successfully guiding a hoop along an electrified wire, or teddy/signed photo gets shredded. Again it’s another viewer-unfriendly concept, but the melodrama is cranked up no end, and it’s one of the few games that appears to have a point to it. It does, however, seem totally impossible to win, but that’s by the by.

There are a few concessions to viewers however, most obviously in “PJ Cam”. This wholly original new concept for Saturday mornings is, er, NTV off Noel’s House Party. Still, in its original form – with the studio cutting straight to the unsuspecting viewer still being a neat trick – there’s the opportunity for some amusing TV. Unfortunately nobody seems to have thought of anything to do after we go to the house, so instead the show just got the viewer to demonstrate her “hidden talent” of walking while in the lotus position, but did so some two hours after her first appearance. In the meantime we had two lengthy slots given over to hyping up this trick which lasted for all of five seconds.

There’s a general lack of viewer interaction in the programme. The interview with Martin Kemp consisted of Dani and Joe asking him questions, rather than viewers asking their own. This is a welcome change from the contrived nature of the interviews on the last few series of Live & Kicking, but it makes the viewer at home feel cut off from the studio. In fact apart from the PJ Cam subject, no viewer appeared on the show at all. It would be nice too to see the programme exploit the fact that it’s live a bit more – one of the best bits about the earlier series was when they used to go to different parts of TV Centre and rope in unsuspecting people, whereas here it’s all confined to the studio. There’s nothing much which tells the audience that it’s live, that things could happen at any moment. The only example of this really comes from a live link up with Nemone at Radio 1, but this doesn’t really work either as she isn’t live on air at the time, and she’s basically reduced to chipping in with comments during a Pop Panel-style look at the new releases.

But there are some new aspects, like the Saturday Show House Band – subject, of course, of a Name the House Band Competition. They might want to find a bit more for them to do than just singing phone numbers, maybe. However, they do get to perform a song each week, although quite whether anyone’s interested in a bunch of nobodies singing a song they’ve never heard before is another matter.

And there’s puppets, which is always the last resort for a kid’s show running out of ideas. But in fact the adventures of Tiny and Mr Duk turn out to be quite entertaining, with some reasonable Zig and Zag-style mayhem generated. In fact they may as well be Zig and Zag in different costumes. Fair enough, it’s hardly very original, but Tiny asking Dani “Have you any idea what I look like naked?” and running a quiz featuring questions such as “Darren Day – True or False?” turns out to be one of the few genuinely funny parts of the programme. And their performance of Stan by Eminem could have made even the most cynical adult smirk. Plus they managed to smuggle the word “minge” in at 10am, which will probably earn them a carpeting from the Beeb, but it was one thing Ant and Dec have never done. This, and Dani referring to a scene from Reservoir Dogs that most of the target audience shouldn’t have seen, are the few spots of anarchy in an otherwise pallid line-up.

So, an SM:TV beater? No. Too much of the show is contrived and unconvincing, and a lot of it is really dull to watch. It’s better than we had before – although given the awful state of Live & Kicking at the end, a return to Improve Your Bridge with Shaw Taylor and the like may have been equally welcome – but it’s simply not good enough.

But if Tiny and Mr Duk presented it all, then I might switch over.


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