Live With… Chris Moyles

Monday, September 23, 2002 by

It was somewhat discourteous, not to mention downright inaccurate, for Chris Moyles to welcome us to his new show with the announcement “It’s seven o’clock”, when it was already at least five minutes past. It was a rash opening gambit to be sure, but a hell of a lame one – especially as it followed on from a title sequence comprising a montage of people busily heading home from work at, yes, seven o’clock. A casual mistake, a calculated snub, or a snooty in-joke?

The dishevelled, tumbling-onto-the-air nature of the ensuing opening routine suggested a simple case of bad planning. Nothing at all seemed to bode well, from the heavily-mannered introductions to the specially-taped “message” from Moyles’ mum warning him “don’t fucking swear”. Being contrived and uncomfortable at the same time, it instantly called to mind the first of many inevitable comparisons with Chris Evans and TFI Friday. Moyles’ hackneyed off-camera aside “It’s going well”, following just a few minutes later, was another. So was a clumsy reference to TV industry chicanery.

All too quickly proceedings became indecently smug: we knew executive producer Evans was cloistered somewhere nearby, feverishly watching over his new creation; and Moyles knew we knew, and we definitely knew Moyles knew we knew. When our host bellowed, “We’ve been doing pilots for months!” by way of justification for another gaffe, what was left of his pitiful cover was totally blown. Any chance of Moyles ever escaping the shadow of his sugardaddy seemed – perhaps permanently – dashed.

That this happened so soon into the programme was the most depressing discovery of all. At least before the show hit the air you could entertain the admittedly ambitious notion of Moyles proving himself something of a revelation, and maybe even cleverly feeding off the reputation and influence of Evans rather than vice versa. It was hard not to feel a little ashamed by having this fanciful eventuality so rapidly dispelled, and all your prejudices confirmed.

Indeed, for every saving grace it was possible to detect – such as the absence of a “comedy” stooge sitting lamely to one side of the host – a lamentable curse popped up in its place: a prime one being the decision to have Moyles standing up behind a bar throughout, meaning he was continually fidgeting and wandering about in an extremely irritating and unnecessary fashion. The way he lurched to and fro in front of the camera was akin to the programme taking place aboard a rather creaky and ill-fitting railway carriage, and with each jolt the already-wafer thin line of rapport between Moyles and us at home was frayed still further.

As the rest of the half hour unfolded it was undeniably clear that what was proving the show’s greatest undoing was this feeling of being able to make less and less of a connection with what was happening on screen. You got the impression that Moyles and everyone else had gone out of their way to ensure a sympathetic response from the audience both at home and in the studio. But this was a strategy, however, that just ended up seeming rather patronising, like we were supposed to feel grateful for being flattered by Chris and his team in such a blatant and somewhat toadying manner. The semblance of a safety net also extended to peopling the replica bar with the ideal Moyles audience: a horde of student nurses who screamed with laughter every time he mentioned the word “undercrackers” and when he pronounced the word “Dudley” in a crap Birmingham accent.

When Moyles himself went among his acolytes to interview some of them, it was telling that the faltering dialogue had to be arrested several times with the repeated showing of a photo depicting one of the audience in an “embarrassing” situation. Finally the flush was truly busted when one of them had to take part in what was ostensibly the show’s grand climax. This took the form of a typically whimsical quiz involving two recurring motifs of Evans’ career: pint glasses and inflicting pain on members of the public. It also proved to be a major disaster, the contestant won nothing, and we were presented with a distinctly tepid conclusion to the preceding 25 minutes.

There’s plenty that’s obviously wrong with Live With … Chris Moyles – doing a review of the day’s papers when it’s already getting dark for starters. There’s also more sprawling yet fundamental defects. For any kind of interaction and energy to exist and crackle between a host and their audience, particularly in a live context, the more varied, unpredictable and inclusive a crowd the better. Here we were faced with a wholly exclusive clique who unfortunately appeared happy to revel within the box Moyles had put them. What’s more, a successful, live, audience-based show must make you desperately want to be there, in amongst the lucky people, sitting a few rows away from the action. In this case every cutaway to the crowd merely made you glad you weren’t; the environment, even at home, seemed as inhospitable as it was possible to imagine.

Above all, for any programme that’s presuming to demand to be watched every day at the same time without fail, to really make an impact there has to be a carefully timed, yet subtly flexible schedule in place from the start. This is usually achieved via two means: some kind of regularity within the format to hook in new and returning viewers alike, plus a logically ordered and easily obvious sequence of features. On the evidence so far Live With … Chris Moyles has neither of these. In the first show alone items were promised which never properly surfaced, or were given a huge build up then thrown away in seconds – such as a much-trailed film of Moyles’ participation in a 10 kilometre run the previous day, which when it arrived totalled less than 30 seconds. It’s sensible to make a finale out of a quiz, but this does depend on everything going to plan and a sense of anticipation, release and fulfilment being generated to envelope the viewer. In the event none of this turned up, and there was palpable relief on everyone’s part, not least the contestant, when the entire ordeal was over.

With five conveniently needing to secure only half a million viewers or so regularly to justify the programme’s existence, it’s likely Live With … Chris Moyles will be around for ages. Which is the nub of the problem, not just with this kind of show, but with five. For all the palaver surrounding re-branding and “dumbing-up” and changes in management, the channel continues to pride in trading in a rather base tokenism and the pursuit of the least worst option. No matter how many times Moyles shouts “How much better than Emmerdale is this?” ratings will be shockingly miniscule for a 7pm slot, and publicity-grabbing outbursts of profanity from unscreened telephone callers will offset with hours of blokes standing in front of paintings making arts documentaries to please the ITC.

And they still can’t even make the channel run on time.


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