Rather than Commenting on the Critics, this week it’s a Comment on Television…
This morning, scrolling through the articles on a Facebook feed, I am recommended a clip from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. This time, it is Kevin Spacey as part of a barbershop quartet. Indeed, Fallon himself is amongst the singers and, not only is it hilarious as they perform Jason Derulo’s ‘Talk Dirty’ in vocal harmony but this is also thought-through, viral entertainment. Jimmy Fallon’s YouTube feed has a wealth of high-ranking stars performing the most comedic sketches. Recently, Jonah Hill, Justin Timberlake and Fallon turned Twitter into a literal conversation, hashtags included, to become a hypnotic and endlessly repeatable (“hashtag addictive”) clip. It also proves how skilled Fallon himself is. He holds his own against the highest ranking musicians and actors.
In the UK, we have quite a few talk-show hosts. The most significant three are Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross and Alan Carr. I’m unsure whether it is their hands that are tied or if they lack the boldness and bravado to even become as popular as Jimmy – in any case, they are lacking something significant. I would argue that Jonathan Ross clearly adores Jimmy Fallon as he is often keen to perform a unique ‘stunt’, that we, as viewers, would not be able to do ourselves. Ross bravely held a scorpion in his hand and I cringed (with delight) as, clearly nervous, he conducted his interview with a dangerous creature on his hand. But this type of thing is rare on his show – though attempt to try and put stars in compromising situations. Graham Norton also managed to snag Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro to re-live their Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days. It happens – but considering our UK talkshows are once-a-week, while Jimmy is on weeknights, you’d think we could compete in some manner.
This week Graham Norton had the three lead X-Men: Days of Future Past actors on his show and, as usual, the same standard format is used. Jokes at the start, the three sit on a sofa and converse about the latest release with comedy as internet-content is revealed to the actors. The “chair” finale to each show is dull and tired – is the point of it to prove how dull we ‘normal’ people are? I’m not sure. Norton himself is negligible too – a convivial host maybe, but he is hardly adding to the mix. Ultimately, we enjoy seeing the three actors joke amongst them and the internet content is great, but nothing is unique to The Graham Norton Show.
You can tell there is an attempt at recreating the US talk show format – but it fails on so many levels. The sets look similar, but clearly the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 have neither the budget nor the drive to try and improve the programmes. Ultimately, they know people tune in to see the guests primarily. Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan had programmes with an established format. Well-spoken, older and wiser “serious” presenters had an air of importance. It’s an image of course, and I’m sure the image changed over time – but it had a sense of British class. Where is the dancing-host like Bruce Forsyth? Or the singing Des O’Connor? We have comedians – but what else?
The UK needs to shake-up its talk-show scene. Nothing has a unique edge or quality that creates conversation. This is the time of social networking. While Jimmy Fallon includes skits with stars about Twitter and Facebook, Alan Carr serves up a drink-of-choice as his unique ‘homely’ tone. Entire, detailed videos – shared across YouTube – show Fallon (on his previous show) send-up Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. I haven’t shared anything from Alan Carr’s Chatty Man, The Graham Norton Show or The Jonathan Ross Show at all. The same tired format isn’t innovative, ground-breaking or exciting. It’s safe, repetitive and limited. Jimmy Fallon can sing, keep perfect time on school instruments, he dances, lip-sync’s (find those videos…), acts, hosts and is self-effacing enough to create funny-faces, and is likeable and safe-enough to even interview the President himself. Carr, Ross and Norton may be able to host exceptionally well… but I don’t recall the last dance-off or sing-song they have even attempted. Unless they are willing to do a little more than simply sit in a comfy chair, our talk-shows will remain a barren wasteland of advertisements for films by leading actors. Now television is global, with internet and access to interviews elsewhere, maybe we will turn to the US for our Friday night television in the future…
Simon Columb – Follow him on Twitter @screeninsight