Thursday, 15 January 2009

"Your eyes are bigger than your belly"

The title comes from something my Ma used to say to me when I'd ask for seconds of dinner then leave some of it on the plate. An old Geordie expression, no doubt, which I use in a more general sense when people's ambitions don't quite match their... er, um... I was going to say 'talent' but it's not quite the right word. When ambitions don't match reality perhaps?

I was thinking of this when reading about how Richard and Judy, morning titans and ratings' winners for many years on ITV, then successful in the afternoons on C4, are now watched by an average of 44,000 people on the stupidly-named channel 'Watch'.

(SLIGHT SIDEBAR - I mean, come on. Watch. Who thought of that? Bet he or she had a stupid name too, like Tarquil, Doodah or Ampersand. Whereas Dave is a good channel name, Watch is just idiotic. Probably repeating myself but Dave is similar to something in the US. Over there, yer Americans have two radio formats known as Jack and Jill, one more blokey, one more girly. You often hear "You're listening to KYFC, Jack 99.4 FM" or the like - it's well-known. So Dave was 'inspired' (ahem) from that. I should imagine. Don't sue me Mr UKTV bigwig. Anyway, Watch is still a rubbish channel name. Do they say "You're watching Watch" at any point? I don't suppose you, me or the 99.99% of the population who don't watch Watch would know. Rant over. Breathe.)

Back to R&J. So their eyes were bigger than their belly. They wanted primetime. They wanted, in effect, to lead a channel. More money was probably on offer too, and Paul O'Grady and Deal or no Deal were doing better for C4, so they maybe had little choice.

But their brand of television shouts daytime. Sofas, chat, small scale, no audience, etc. It was never really going to work at 8pm, was it? I suppose the high-ups at Watch thought the next afternoon repeats might do OK too, but I assume they're not. Slightly-warmed-up-last-night's-topical-telly wouldn't be top of my list of viewing.

So they were moved to 6pm but it hasn't helped the ratings. Expect them to leave amicably before their contract is up. A deal signed before the current downturn is probably cheaper to buy out than cruddy ratings day after day.

This happens all the time in tv. I worked with a really great presenter. He was clever and great on screen, popular with the audience of the show he presented, the people he worked with AND the channel the show was on (all three is very rare), and moving on up the food chain of the television world.

Series 1 of this show had been a minor hit, series 2 had done incredibly well, in the channel's top ten most weeks, rating much better than the low budget and pre-primetime slot should've got for them. So big cheers all round, here's to series 3!

Er, no. He refused to present it, as it was sponsored by a company he didn't like. He also wanted lots of other things too, feeling - quite rightly in some ways - he was a big part of the show's success and he'd been underpaid and overworked for two series, and that the show wouldn't work without him.

He was unceremoniously replaced. And you know what? The show didn't work as well without him, as the new presenter was an actor who knew nothing about the subject matter. I was a producer on this series, and spent aeons with this guy (a really lovely talented bloke who is now a big proper actor in primetime dramas) coaching him, scripting almost everything and preparing him, only for my boss to rip them all up the day before shooting and tell him to 'wing it'. Sigh.

Anyway, this show was a bit of a disaster. The content was better than ever, but the lack of the naughty humour of the previous presenter really showed. And it looked cheaper, a mixture of a crap location and hurried filming. The content was great though and the ratings held up OK until the format was revised yet again halfway through, into what became such a disaster lawsuits by people on the show were filed at the end.

Series 4, funnily enough, saw the return of the previous presenter. And it was great... but, it's funny, the time had somehow passed and it just seemed a bit 'been there, done that'. Ratings dipped, the content was weaker and the ladsy gags got grating, and the series slipped away almost unnoticed a few series later.

That's usually the way a show dies in telly but it's odd, that third series could've been a blockbuster, lifting the show into primetime, bigger budgets, greater ambitions and a much higher profile. But the presenter's eyes were bigger than his belly.

No-one ever seems to learn lesson one of appearing on telly - you're famous for Being On That Show On That Channel At That Time, not for being fabulous or funny or brilliant or beautiful. Be like Ken Barlow, stick around for ever and the public love you.

Don't go to a small channel from a big one, even if the money or hours are much better. Eamonn Holmes is watched by 10,000 people on Sky News in the morning, compared to a few million in his heyday on GMTV. It's a fact that 98% of the people staring at the ever-expanding Mr Holmes are in gyms panting on treadmills listening to their iPods, not his lilting Irish brogue.

And don't leave daytime telly - if you're good there, you can do it until you drop. Primetime is unforgiving, people get bored quicker; both the viewers and the commissioners.

The sad thing for Richard and Judy is they did all three.

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