Monday, 28 April 2008

Live tv going wrong (again)

I've mentioned the crappy live pop magazine show I worked on many times before. Well the show was interactive too, aeons before such things were thought important. The viewers picked the presenters, in a big live one-off special, then the series kicked off the next week. The idea was each presenter pitched ideas for features then the ones the viewers voted for were filmed*

In the special, there were ten presenters up for four spots. Only four of the presenters were any good (and I'm pushing it here by the use of the word 'good' - one was properly good, two OK, one less-car-crash-than-the-remainder). I wasn't working on the show at the time, sitting at home watching, jaw dropping at how poor it all seemed, as it stumbled along it's running time, barely staying on air never mind being entertaining. I rang up a mate and we bitched to each other as we watched. Always fun doing that, even when I really liked the two producers making the show. Hey, tv is cruel yeah?

The viewers voted all through the show and the results were read out at the end. And the properly good one hadn't won. What? He wasn't even in the final four, his place taken by a dwarf pixie with a speech defect. Huh? The voting patterns seemed very odd, everything in round %ages - 30% for this one, 20% for that. Durrr?

Next day I was told what happened. In a panic to get the results through, the boss had handed over the wrong results - not the just-collated live votes but the piece of card they'd made up for the rehearsal. The actual results were left on the desk. The ones that picked the only four decent presenters, as any sane person picking up a telephone would've done.

But what could be done? The producers couldn't fire the tiny wee boy who couldn't talk, could they? No, they couldn't. Or, rather, no WE couldn't as I was drafted on board as a producer. The solution was simple. The microscopic talent-free laddie was given his own 'special' segment of the show, kept as a presenter. And the proper good one was hired pronto, with a comedy apology at the start of the actual series the next week.

I was told to adapt an idea I'd been working on as a development producer for the small bloke to present as a pre-recorded segment each week. It was called 'Weird News' and was odd silly stories from Fortean Times. They provided their archive - ie sent over every magazine ever and yours truly ploughed through them all finding bits and pieces. Dog-shoots-man... man-falls-off-balcony-and-lands-on-man-coming-to-kill-him, those kind of stories. The things you see on the Funny News of any website nowadays but that weren't as common way back when I was a nipper.

I now had to put these weirdities on air. My show in development had reconstructions, animations, photo archive and the works. We couldn't afford anything, as this was all an extra expense off the show budget, so I got someone who could draw sketches and then we'd cut to them randomly, with lots of spooky sound effects, odd music, flashes and all that. Anything to disguise it was just a man who couldn't present talking about things he didn't understand in an accent no-one else could understand.

So I found myself sitting in some gentlemen's club with a tiny person-ette sitting in a leather armchair failing to read "Welcome to Weird News" hundreds of times over. He couldn't even say 'news'. It came out as 'nooooos'.

After a full day of filming we made around six minutes of barely-watchable tv. The pointless munchkin complained he was tired. My crew and me smiled politely and said we may as well finish now. He went off, thinking he'd come back and do the next lot. I knew the score - there'd be no next lot as he was so bad it wasn't really broadcastable.

We did show two installments of Weird Noooos I think, and we crammed all the pictures we had into them, jumpcut all over the place and made them almost interesting. Almost. I think we paid the guy for all ten episodes but didn't bother to make them. He wrote in and complained but the show was on it's way to cancellation anyway so no-one replied.

All because of the wrong piece of card being handed over.

*This seemed good but in reality only a few thousand people voted, and they always, always, always picked any feature with a celebrity in it.

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