Friday, October 19, 2001 by

While Pop Idol and Soapstars have been taking up many column inches and hours of television, another reality TV show – just as entertaining, if not more so, than those two – has been quietly charming its audience tucked away as part of CBBC. Those who stumbled across DIY TV, though, will have found a superb, quirky and consistently amusing series.

The programme has been spawned from the BBC Talent initiative, which attempts to find new people to fill roles both in front of and behind the camera. DIY TV invited a bunch of kids to make their own one-off programme which was actually going to be transmitted. The first step here were some auditions, much like Popstars et al, and then a trip to a BBC training centre, to decide which kids would get the responsibility of filling 15 minutes of BBC1′s output.

If I was 12 years old again, I’d be desperate to be a part of DIY TV. It really is wish-fulfillment television, and the kids involved are clearly genuinely excited to have got this opportunity. They even managed to get their own office in Television Centre, and some of the best moments of the series spawned from the kids’ obvious wonder at having BBC resources at their disposal. Within hours of them arriving, for example, they’d already been told off for using the phones to ring each other up when they were only a few feet apart. Better still, Devraj the floor manager moaned at the computer he was given only having Word 95 – a crappier package than he had at home.

The obvious stars of the series were that man Devraj and the likeable Brummie Stephen. Devraj first caught the viewer’s eye in the auditions when he insisted on presenting his piece with the help of his laptop computer, with amusing results (“Oh, hang on, it’s password protected …”) He was appointed as designer and floor manager on the programme, and within minutes had attracted the ire of the “producer” by skiving off an important meeting to go and have a look around the props store. Stephen, meanwhile, was given the role of guest booker. This had started brightly for him, as on his first day he spotted Victoria Wood in the canteen and hassled her into giving them her agent’s number. Unfortunately he couldn’t build on this triumph, and for most of the series we saw him constantly trying to convince anyone to appear. Eventually he was reduced to trying to book unknown boy band Times Four, who they’d previously rejected for being obscure – and even they were having second thoughts.

Between all the capers in the office, many of the team went off on work experience on various BBC productions. Stephen, for example, got the job of shepherding A1 while they were making a guest appearance on Xchange, which basically involved darting around TV Centre trying to find some peppermint tea. Devraj’s role as floor manager on the same show was less successful, as he shouted so much he scared the entire cast and crew. A trip to Top of the Pops saw So Solid Crew winding everyone up, while the three presenters got to co-host an afternoon of CBBC, which alerted everyone to the hopeless Sophie’s dreadful memory for names.

Eventually, and after a knock-back from Lorraine Heggessey who called their original pitch “boring”, the team managed to get a programme together, and The Buzz was recorded in front of a live studio audience. They’d managed to record some filmed inserts and Devraj had overseen the production of a genuinely great title sequence. Stephen had even managed to book some guests – mediocre garage group Genius Cru, someone off Grange Hill, and someone off Neighbours, whose name Sophie couldn’t remember. Indeed, Sophie was intending to get the guest to actually introduce herself, before she was told that it may sound a bit rude. The Neighbours star was already flustered as she’d been told to arrive several hours too early.

Stephen and Devraj did the warm-up – surely the role they were born to do – and then it was time to record the show. At this point in the programme we cut to a live insert with all the cast and crew assembling in the CBBC studio to watch their programme go out. Rather annoyingly, they ended up talking about who they fancied, as they had done throughout the series. If I was there at the age of 12 I would have been more interested by making TV programmes, not in members of the opposite sex. Ah, well. Then it was time to roll the tape.

The Buzz was very much as you’d expect, with some bland interviews – including a deathly dull interrogation of Genius Cru – a couple of Trigger Happy TV-style hidden camera stunts, and a filmed report on martial arts, which was at least edited with some finesse, making up for it’s rather dull content. What it really proved was that if you let kids make their own programme, it’s often as unexciting and restrained as most adult-made kids TV, as the production team here struggled with their own limitations and the conventions of television. It would have been great to see something irreverent and anti-adult come out of this, but fairly obviously this wasn’t going to be the case. Still, as a journalist who was invited to see some of the inserts commented, “I’ve seen much worse from so-called professional producers.”

So, did DIY TV unearth any of the stars of tomorrow? As far as the kids in front of the screen were concerned, probably not. This was very much an artificial situation anyway. However, the series was blessed with a superb production team behind the camera, who executed an excellent format with wit and charm. Almost all of the kids came out of the series well, and the sheer excitement of the concept was accurately conveyed on screen. This is one of the programmes that displays the wealth of talent that’s working in the children’s department.

And if Devraj gets his own show in 10 years time, remember where you saw him first.


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