The Saturday Night Artifice

Friday, June 19, 2009 by

What boring Saturday night telly we’ve got at the moment.

Since Britain’s Got Talent pulled in eighteen million viewers the other week, everyone seems to be biding their time until The X Factor comes back. The current tedium is best exhibited with Totally Saturday on BBC1, a programme that exhibits all the originality its title would suggest – that is, none at all.

Totally Saturday is a completely generic Saturday night show, where stuff happens, yes, but it’s rarely very interesting and never seems to have much of a point. Punters are pulled out of the audience, games are played, pop stars sing and none of it sticks in your mind. Everything you’ve come to expect from Saturday night telly is here, and that’s the problem – you know exactly what’s going to happen and it’s not good enough to disguise its by-the-numbers conception.

The big flaw, I’m suggesting, with Totally Saturday is its lack of confidence – it simply doesn’t believe in what it’s doing. One of the games involves members of the public having to dress up as giant Scrabble letters and rearrange themselves into the answers to questions. Silliness is something that certainly has its place on Saturday nights, and on something like Hole In The Wall or Total Wipeout it works because everyone knows the concept is ridiculous, they accept it, and they launch into it with gusto. On Totally Saturday, though, nobody’s heart seems in it – the punters seem embarrassed having to do it, Graham seems embarrassed asking them and, therefore, you can’t help but feel embarrassed for everyone while watching it. In an attempt to keep a bit of dignity, this half-arsed approach at wackiness just makes it come out even more undignified.

Like Passport to Paradise, a similarly iffy Saturday night show, you could probably stick any of the items on Saturday Night Takeaway and they wouldn’t seem out of place, but Ant and Dec, and the production itself, has an enthusiasm and energy which can prop up the flimsiest of features, and they believe in what they’re doing. I don’t think you get that with Graham Norton, much as you didn’t with Johnny Vaughan, so everything falls flat.

People say that Saturday night telly is on the up these days, but outside the big guns – The X Factor, Strictly, Doctor Who – what else is there? Not much. It looks like if it’s not a variation on one of these three (see The One and Only, my vote for the worst show on BBC1 last year), nobody can be bothered. That’s why I thought I’d take advantage of the comments boxes by asking you what sort of light entertainment you’d like to see on a Saturday night. Has anyone got a winning format?

I’ve been thinking about this, and one of the things I’ve enjoyed most on Saturday nights recently has been the bits in Ant vs Dec in Takeaway where the boys have to learn how to be weathermen, or write a song in a week and perform it live. This can often be extremely amusing and maybe there’s something to be said for a series where celebs are challenged to put on a show or learn new skills? I suppose a similar idea is behind last year’s flop, Thank God You’re Here, but I reckon that show didn’t really work thanks to its fixed, rigid and rather boring format. If you had something like that, but broadcast live, a much looser format and a greater sense of messing around, it could work, I reckon.

Not enough of a spectacle? I’ve always been impressed by the level of creativity shown by the contributors to Adam and Joe’s 6 Music show, creating songs and videos and so forth, so let’s put that on the telly. Let’s get members of the public to write songs, perfom comedy sketches and so on, and we can all vote for them. To make it 360 degrees as all new formats should be, let’s give viewers a challenge - make a comedy film or write a song based on a topical story or something – then get them to upload it to the website, let visitors rate them and invite the best to create something new live on air. Why not invite some celebrities to join the teams as well to bring their talents to the mix and put them in an unusual situation?

OK, so this format’ll need a bit of work, we can thrash out the specifics in development – but it’s coming up with something different and getting the public involved in a creative way. But has anyone got any other formats they’d like to see over the beans on toast? The comments boxes are all yours…


10 Responses to “The Saturday Night Artifice”

  1. Coolcat on June 19th, 2009 9:24 pm

    Passport to Paradise didn’t work because it was far too rigid a format – same rather dull, not-much-point games every week – and because that’s not J & D’s thing. They work together brilliantly when being allowed to bounce off each other, free-form, with just the lightest of formats: a paper review, a flimsy chatshow, whatever. Give them a 5.45pm sofa chat where they get to play games with the guests, be cheeky with some members of the public, would have gone down a storm – think Late Late Breakfast Show series 1, with a dash of Big Breakfast tomfoolery thrown in. Yes, invite an audience, but give it a much more intimate feel. But at 7.30, you’re asking it to be the centrepiece of Saturday night, rather than a curtain raiser – a different sort of beast.
    Guess what? History’s repeating itself! Graham Norton’s being given exactly the same strait-jacket. He should be doing his BBC Two show on Saturday night BBC One in the old Parky slot, but no, now he’s the centrepiece with the tired format being re-heated. And it’s bombing again because it’s not HIS thing either.

  2. gerard wiley on June 19th, 2009 10:49 pm

    You forgot to mention John Barrowman’s utterly woeful Tonight’s the Night.

    There are no new formats etc etc. But which dormant formats to revive? The Game For a Laugh-style shows are the future right now as BBC1 and ITV1 both apparently have up-coming hidden camera shows (Five even reportedly planning to revive GFAL itself).

    ITV also expected to do a Surprise Surprise-type show with Cheryl Cole. Whither Cilla? Would have been heartwarming, recession TV to get her hosting a revived Surprise.

  3. Jack Kibble-White on June 24th, 2009 3:35 pm

    I think the GFAL-style shows (of which Totally Saturday is one) can work on Saturday night, but I think they need to be given a bit of a spin to make them feel a bit more fashionable and credible. So in a nutshell I think I am saying it’s more of a presentation issue, rather than a content issue.

  4. Glenn Reuben on June 26th, 2009 3:31 pm

    Well with Noel’s House Party, that felt like something where there was a bit of excitement involved – finding out who was at the door, for example, even if it was Mr Blobby. The only idea I could think of would be to take the house used for Finders Keepers and use that as a giant studio, with people acting as characters who are part of a family (maybe one is “out” and actually goes into town to find people for stunts?). Sort of like The Kumars at No. 42, only a bit bigger. That said, it would cost a lot, but it may at least some sort of structure. Other than that, no idea.

  5. Rob Williams on June 27th, 2009 1:13 am

    How about a new version of either 321 or Ultra Quiz? Both groundbreaking and with a twist. Saying that Glenn’s idea sounds great and would be a laugh, perhaps a Saturday night version of Number 73 or Dick and Dom in da Bungalow…

  6. Glenn Reuben on June 27th, 2009 11:15 pm

    Rob, nice thoughts, except I just realised that the house theme might be a little bit on the old side. Perhaps it could still be the same studio set, but a different setup. Possibly something like a high street shopping centre after closing time, with each shop completely different (maybe a secret wine bar or club in the basement?). The entire thing could be hosted by the “security guard” or “cleaner” or something. Just some ideas to throw out there. My main argument is that it should be done with memorable characters (ideally, relative unknowns playing them) which would find an audience, instead of B-list celebrities. The studio set would also give us some sort of structure, albeit a very loose one. Thoughts, everybody?

  7. MartS on July 6th, 2009 3:58 pm

    And I read today on Broadcastnow, that it’s terminal for Totally Saturday.

    What a surprise, but Norton faced a uphill struggle to make this work. I strongly believe there were two overideing factors at work here – and one of the kneecappers of its lack of sucess was forged over 10 years ago.

    Totally Saturday is a quick paced mix of mini-formats – but without a hook other than the umbrella of the show to make anything stick it actually resembles less of a format and more of a collection of random ideas all linked by one man.
    Plus, any show these days that goes for this approach reminds viewers of the slow televised death of Noels House Party.

    Ant and Dec just about got away with it because in the early series of ‘Takeaway’ they played the ‘win the ads’ show finale feature very strongly and hung the rest of the features around the show to build upto it. That isn’t present in any part of
    TS and although the holiday game is the show stopper feature – it’s barely mentioned during the show by Norton.
    The inconsistancy from show to show is glaring. One week the headling music act closes the show, next week it’s the theme and credit roll. It’s as though the main selling point (the music guest) was dropped because the rest of the throwaway rubbish overan. Oh yeah, and if the Hampsters wheel game was done as an ironic satire of the past features of Saturday night telly of old, then it would have been amusing. But its not – and as a result it looks childish, under developed and worse, unfunny.

    The other one problem is partly Norton (but not directly) himself and delusion from the BBC.

    Somewhere along the line someone at TVC must have thought that we was ready for primetime Saturday Night because of his three previous outings in the same slot with the Find a West End Star trilogy.
    However, on that show he was basically an autocue reading drone with only small interaction with the studio audience and more between Lord Lloyd-Webber and judges panel and with the singers which was crafted during the rehersals.
    Plus it wasn’t a format built around Norton – finding the star was the selling point, not Graham being the star.

    In TS it’s all about him and appears on screen to be on the hoof, and although I don’t doubt that the production team haven’t thought of all avenues when an sting on a viewers is aired, he does look slightly worried it’s all going to crash around his ears.
    Presenting a nice line in studio audience ambush embarrasment and making ad-lib knob and dildo jokes to middle aged female celebs and actresses on his late night chatshow is not problem, and is what he is brilliant at, but you can see the pressure of being the face of shinyfloor prime time family viewing Saturday Night BBC One.

    No wonder it’s all quickly unravelled piece by piece. Norton deserves better. Saturday Night is not the place to find it.

  8. Nick H on July 6th, 2009 7:00 pm

    Has anyone learned from Bruce Forsythe’s Big Night?

  9. Glenn Reuben on December 3rd, 2009 12:16 am

    Has anybody given any more thought to this? I still quite like the idea of having a big shopping centre or fictional high street act as the “studio” in the same way it did for Noel’s House Party or The Big Breakfast. And like that latter show, it could fun from 7pm to 9pm to make it “event” television every Saturday night. Something like “Saturday Street” would be a good title, and you could have interviews, games, hidden camera stuff, competitions…all sorts. The only problem is cost, but if they can do it for other shows, I see no reason why this can’t work!

  10. MartS on December 3rd, 2009 8:49 am

    Part of your idea sounds like the first incarnation of the Chris Evans exec produced Lottery show Red Alert.

    That didn’t work as there were too many people in the studio and the games were basic and only enjoyable if you were in the studio. With more tv audience interaction (other than holding the pink lottery ticket in front of them during the draws) it may have stood a small chance of working.

    That said, having the voice of darts Sid Wadell doing the lottery draw voiceover for a couple of weeks before being replaced by Alan Dedicote was in my opinion an the only idea of genius, in a pool of lame ideas.