As Seen on TV

Friday, July 17, 2009 by

BBC1The problem with panel shows is audiences have become accustomed to them being one of two things… either a bear pit in which up-and-coming comedians battle it out with soon-to-be-going comedians in an attempt to land the most comedy one liners, or frightfully sophisticated witfests involving Stephen Fry.  What both of these types have in common is that they have their roots in that loose coagulation of performers referred to collectively in the 1980s as “alternative comedy.”

This is bad news for panel shows that attempt to occupy a different, more mainstream and less challenging space in the schedules – for those shows failure looks imminent.  This then, is the likely fate of As Seen on TV, which after just one week has already been shifted from its prime spot on a Friday night.  Its mandate appears to be to try and appeal to a wider audience, and that means knocking the hard edges off the humour and swapping out seasoned comedians for well-loved, but not necessarily very funny TV personalities.

Any panel show that features the panel pretending to actually care about their team’s score is on to a loser, and so it is here that team captain Fern Britton volubly celebrates every time she inches in front of the competition.  By contrast, Jason Manford – the other team captain – doesn’t really seem to give a toss about anything.  In fact he is curiously quiet on this series, acting like the proverbial fish out of water; which is all the more strange when you consider that out of all those appearing, he is the only one with any real panel show experience.

Host Steve Jones is new to the game, and very much an acquired taste.  If you disliked him on T4, then his towering self-confidence at the helm of this show isn’t going to make you change your mind.  It doesn’t help that his scripted material isn’t great, but even if he was knocking out comedic gems sculptured and shaped by Groucho Marx himself, as a viewer you’re natural inclination would still be to resist a titter.

With Channel 4′s You Have Been Watching proving itself earlier in the week to be the panel show about TV that actually isn’t that interested in TV, As Seen on TV has unfortunately shown itself to be equally disinterested in the medium it purports to be about.  Whereas you can believe that guests on Have I Got News For You pored over that week’s red tops before taking their rather intimidating seats next to Messrs Hislop and Merton, on this show you sense the panellists have barely bothered to extract information out of an EPG, let alone read the “Tonight’s Picks” columns in their TV listings magazines.

This impression of ignorance is underlined in one round in which our panellists are challenged to recognise one of television’s less well known faces.  Admittedly, Sylvia from Hi-de-Hi isn’t the type of actor to get stopped while doing her shopping in Waitrose, but surely Eggheads‘ Chris Hughes is recognisable enough not to be cast into the category of television unknowns – after all he was on telly just two days before As Seen on TV transmitted.

Of course, wishing for a panel show about telly, to actually be about telly is a folly, and also beside the point.  As with Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the medium of television is just the conduit round which some supposedly entertaining pop culture-focused chat can take place.  Mind you Buzzcocks does have the advantage that you can believe its host and team captains know the difference between the White Stripes and Black Flag; with As Seen on TV you have to wonder if anyone of the panellist would recognise a Python if he slapped them on a face with a fish.


14 Responses to “As Seen on TV”

  1. Nick Gates on July 20th, 2009 12:43 am

    I think that’s a bit harsh, I found it more entertaining than A Question of TV which is the nearest equivilent, I think (certainly not Telly Addicts), and there’s no real reason that a gentle family friendly TV quiz couldn’t be a success (god, how long was That’s Showbusiness run for on Monday nights? Literally forever.). Except that everyone cries out for more traditional entertainment formats, only when they come along everyone slags them off and nobody watches – it’s a bit of a lose-lose situation really.

    Other than getting Chris Hughes in as a Thingy Off The Telly, and Steve Jones not being able to deliver a joke very well, I didn’t think it did much all that much wrong really.

  2. Ben on July 20th, 2009 7:47 am

    Didn’t like the show much, seemed to be over before it began. Some parts were poorly executed, the ‘Thingy off the telly’ round was terrible with the celebrity often with their back to the camera when answering the important questions.

  3. MartS on July 20th, 2009 7:59 am

    I watched it and found it not the most demanding of viewing.
    Steve Jones sort of kept order, but should have been better rehearsed by the production team back in the office, about some of the possible ad libs bric bats by some of the panellists, and how to handle them better with a more humerous response.

    The one thing I did find interesting though was the credit at the end ‘by arrangement with Unique TV’.
    Do Unique (via Noels old connections with Telly Addicts) still hold the copyright to quiz shows based on tv on television?

  4. Steve Williams on July 20th, 2009 8:26 am

    Yes, I noticed that, but given the first round is basically Channel Hopping again, it’s not surprising that Unique have asked for a credit. I thought this was OK, fairly old school, but the last round, Guess The TV Show From The Pictures, was satisfyingly tough but hard to play along at home as they kept cutting from the pictures to the panel. Which was annoying. They want to sort that out.

    I wouldn’t say, as Jack has, that its swift rescheduling is anything like a demotion, it’s all thanks to ITV’s rescheduling meaning the Beeb have had to shuffle their shows. If anything, now it’s opposite Emmerdale rather than Corrie, it’s possibly a promotion.

  5. Richie JH on July 20th, 2009 11:10 am

    They would have been better off bringing back Telly Addicts, also some proper archive clips (ie 70′s & 80′s – everyone loves a bit of nostalgia) might have helped – one of the guess the years was 2005 which seems like just yesterday!

  6. Gavtronic on July 20th, 2009 3:38 pm

    Both this and ‘You Have Been Watching’ seem locked in laughably moribund formats – Charlie Brooker and his coterie of ‘Off The Kerb’ alumni and alluringly clad popsters (ahem, Jamelia, ahem) , for example, have out-cooled and outwitted themselves to the point that the atmosphere is one of a particularly uncomfortable episode of ‘Ask the Family’.
    You are only ever going to receive fourth, fifth, or sixth-hand wit and naif reaction (how long before any plagiarised satirical line on ‘As Seen…’ is greeted with “That’s so random!?” by a guesting bimbobot?) from ‘ASOT’ and what Jones possesses in terms of a “shagger’s swagger”, Brooker is prismically opposite from. Increasingly the scatalogical, cannibalistic, nihilistic s-wordsmith of the Guardian reveals himself to be coy at the delivery of his own lines and apparently in love with a certain tier of celebrity that he used to deplore – at least upon the page.
    Why didn’t Brooker go the whole hog in his ‘Victor Lewis-Smith’ Tribute act and look at the early twenty-first century’s ‘The Vicious Circle’ – VLS’s doomed but laudable foray into round-table TV criticism containing lost-years “IN-Vindaloo-On-Shoulder-Gear” Keith Allen, on Channel 5.
    Copying that format and adding that particular tincture of verbal MSG that makes hima little more palatable than Lewis-Smith would have been a shrewder move for Brooker.

  7. Andy Elms on July 31st, 2009 9:20 am

    Well, I enjoyed last nights as fairly light, undemanding froth – fairly similar in style to Head Jam (TV theme tune round, please!), down to the gangly presenter off T4. Most of the comedy gems came from Peter Serafinowicz, although I probably would have enjoyed it more if I actually knew who the two women on the opposing team were. Was one of them Kate Lawler off Big Brother?

    The idea of having a contemporary in “Thingy Off The Telly” was a good one, though I would have preferred the slightly more sexist Whiteleyan “Himoff”. The rotating podium is a neat trick, and its novelty got a couple of decent gags. Maybe more historic questions – as TVCream says, anything in the last decade sort of blurs togetehr. Oh, and a “Dead or In Manchester” round (was a soap character killed off, or did they “move to Adelaide”) would be fun.

    The only time I didn’t enjoy it, of course, was when I hadn’t a clue about what they were talking about. But I suppose you can hardly have a TV quiz without mentioning soaps.

    Most of all, as with You Have Been Watching, taking less emphaisis over the scoring – especially not reporting it at the end of each round, and arbitrary supply of points ala Clive Anderson in “Whose Line…” would lighten the atmosphere.

  8. Steve Churchill on July 31st, 2009 5:57 pm

    Anyone else find the long shots in the end round annoying, as the viewer at home can’t see the image the teams are identifying?

    Change the host, add funnier guests (Peter Serafinowicz has been the only success so far), stop Fern Britten doing “comedy introductions” and add questions from pre-1990, and this could be an entertaining quiz.

  9. Steve Williams on August 7th, 2009 8:32 am

    Logic seems to be going out of the window on this show – last week we had one of Britain’s best impressionists and they didn’t get him to do any impressions (though Peter Serafinowicz was pleasingly silly in other ways) and this week, one of the years in Guess The Year was… last bloody year! What on earth is the point of that? Why is this show so desperate not to include anything from before the last decade? Surely showing some silly clips of seventies or eighties telly can get a laugh, get the panellists to do some funny anecdotes and appeal to a much wider audience? Why show clips of Wallander? Harry Hill couldn’t think of anything funny to say about that show – so what chance Fern Britton?

  10. Andy Elms on August 7th, 2009 1:07 pm

    Steve W. wrote:
    Guess The Year was… last bloody year

    That jarred me as well. Not to mention the question about the name of an actor appearing on a TV show in 2010. While I can understand the Beeb trying to drum up excitment for the New New New Doctor, that was a touch excessive.

    However, if they run out of “Thingys” they could always have a “Whose Former Flatmate Am I?” round…

  11. Glenn Aylett on August 7th, 2009 3:14 pm

    Why not revive That’s Entertainment, the reasonably popular showbiz panel game from the late 80s and early 90s? Mike Smith has been off air for a very long time and needs the work and also it was quite a good show.

  12. Steve Williams on August 7th, 2009 6:32 pm

    Basically this is That’s Showbusiness (that was its name, although it mutated from a similar series the previous year called A Question Of Entertainment) in that it’s got two teams of celebs, mostly well-known faces rather than celebrities, one led by a mumsy TV favourite (for Fern Britton read Gloria Hunniford) and one led by a comedian – although you’d have to say that Jason Manford and Kenny Everett are some distance apart. It probably owes more to that than Telly Addicts.

    Mike Smith certainly doesn’t need the work anyway, as he runs a company that supplied helicopters to TV companies and almost every time there’s a shot from a helicopter on a TV show, it’s one of his choppers doing it. In fact it’s often him flying it. Then there’s all his Carphone Warehouse booty, apparently he did the ads when they started and they couldn’t afford to pay him so he got a load of shares, and they ended up being worth millions. He’s doing just fine.

  13. Steve Williams on August 7th, 2009 6:33 pm

    Er, that should have been “well-known faces rather than comedians”.

  14. Tayles on August 27th, 2009 8:32 am

    Apart from the basic premise, “As Seen on TV” has little in common with “You Have Been Watching”. The former is fluffy, broad and lightweight, whereas the latter tries to be more cruel and cutting. That said, my main problem with “You Have Been Watching” is Charlie Brooker. I’m a big fan of his written work, his sneering voice-overs and his scripted put-downs but when he talks to the panellists, he resorts to an irritating high-pitched voice, sounding something between a whining teenager and an overwrought sycophant. Sort it out man.