That 10 O'Clock Live: what we've learnt
Andrew Mickel28 April 2011
Andrew Mickel looks back over the 10 O'Clock Live coverage to give his verdict on a brave attempt to mix politics and satire in front of a live audience.
Cast your mind back to the start of the 15-week run of 10 O'Clock Live: a time before nuclear power plants started to fail, before Arab dictators fell and Libya was riven by war, before half a million people took to London's streets to protest government cuts and were promptly ignored by everyone. The show has not exactly been short of material.
The first reception to the show in the dark days of January was mixed, with the snap polls on Twitter coming in with an almighty 'meh'. That was inevitable given the insanely enormous expectations of a show that brought both Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell together in a heavily-marketed live programme. But as the four months have worn on, it's bedded down into an amiable mix of jabbing satire (Mitchell), a mixed bag of commentary (Brooker) and some surprisingly pacey and original content (Jimmy Carr).
So, what would we like to see happen before series two hits our screens?
More enthusiasm, please
Charlie Brooker and David Mitchell, who seem to dominate the airtime of the show, are both clever, funny men. But in broadcasting they have a very similar style of pernickity world-weariness. It often seems like they are both aiming for laconic and took a wrong turn at stressed. When you have just one of them doing it, it's charming and funny. Together, it's kind of exhausting.
The one cast member who doesn't fall into that trap is the revelation that has been Jimmy Carr. Not only has he produced some of the funniest content with the difficult format of sketches, he's brought some seriously-needed enthusiasm to the show.
He's fortunately not entirely alone: many well-chosen and passionate young people have been brought in to talk in panel discussions, often about changes in higher education.
They've brought new voices to television (and full credit to the show for doing that), but more importantly, they've bought some enthusiasm into the proceedings.
David Mitchell has done the odd rant to camera that has come across as heartfelt, but otherwise it would be good to see the show get more enthusiasm, anger and grit that would really make it a must-see show.
Send the presenters back to school
10 O'Clock Live may have pretensions to be a news-y show, but it is staffed by comedians. Often, you don't notice – David Mitchell's interview slots, once they were lengthened a bit and really given room to breathe, have often allowed him to quiz important figures with a canny combination of knowledge and comedy.
But in retrospect, that knowledge seems to have been limited to Westminster politics. The show has made a decent effort of trying to cover other topics – but it is often when they do that you suddenly remember that these are comedians hosting the show and not trained journalists.
One particular interview by Mitchell with UKIP leader Nigel Farage led into a weird and utterly irrelevant argument about European identity, wasting a valuable opportunity to ask some of the important questions that should have been asked of both Europe and of Farage.
Similarly, there have been times when Brooker's media commentary have felt like something he's done just a bit too often. Yes, we know that Sky News uses tasteless graphics and Kay Burley is unhinged. Yes, we know American news is loopy and alien and sometimes seems outright dangerous. But at a time when there's so much happening in the world, excoriating media satire seems almost indulgent, particularly when it's focused on news media that is out of sight of the average person.
These two problems seem like two roots of the same problem: it would just be good to see a wider, deeper look at the world from the show on all fronts. 2011 was the perfect time to start a show like 10 O'Clock Live because the world has become a scary and confusing place that is full of new structures, powers and people who could do with a populist punch in the nose from time to time. It would be nice to see a little more ambition in doing that.
The Lauren Laverne question
Cast your mind back to the Alternative Election Night special last year that provided the template for 10 O'Clock Live. Until a few days before broadcast, all the ads for the show featured the three men. It was only in the run-up to broadcast, presumably realising they had a massive sausagefest on their hands, that Lauren Laverne was badly photoshopped in.
She's not really found a place in the show, and some of her pieces have felt like being read a list of bullet points by an irate sixth-former of why, say, privatisation is bad.
It can't be easy to be in her shoes, knowing all the criticism that's been made of her. But she has a great heritage of doing live shows like this. As the band leader on the long forgotten Johnny Vaughan show on BBC Three she showed a lightness of touch that somehow got lost in the hollow posturing of the Culture Show years.
There were glimpses of that this series, and making her a sort of ringmaster to the others was wise. But a clearer role for her has to be found if people aren't going to use her appearances before ad breaks as a chance to stick the kettle on.
Lastly, there's the rather awkward problem of the audience. I suspect this might be personal: I look at them during the show, laughing at cheap jokes that the show should be better than (the Tories are axe-wielding monsters! Ed Miliband, where's he gone?) and worry that I am a bit too much like them. Hell, I've even seen friends in the audience a total of three times this series.
It's odd, because other parts of the show have entered into a genuine debate on the finer points of these questions. But when it does enter that mode, the audience sometimes seems to be the embodiment of the worst excesses of Twitter: the show is suddenly a leftie echo chamber of cheap jibes and easy wins. It feels like exactly the sort of complacency that has meant that shows like Have I Got News For You have become so utterly stale, and just because with this show it happens to be points that you agree with doesn't really excuse that fact.
All that being said, there's been a lot of good stuff on the show. Despite deciding to use old hands rather than fresh talent (and after the rather dismal Tonightly and TNT, you perhaps can't blame Channel 4 for that decision), it has successfully introduced some new voices and made some tentative steps away from focusing satire too tightly on the Westminster agenda.
David Mitchell has cemented his reputation as the nation's most trustworthy comic and Jimmy Carr really has gone some way to becoming a likeable telly property. With a few tweaks it's easy to imagine that 10 O'Clock Live could go beyond being a sometimes funny show – it could actually become important.
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