Saturday, January 14, 1995
‘Not bad for a table and two bits of wall’
In the beginning was The Word, and the word was loud; next was Fantasy Football, and loud became lad; and now comes The End, and the word turns languid.
Making weekend tv programmes for people watching after 11pm is more difficult than it sounds. Half your audience have just returned from the pub and intellectual stimulation is the last thing on their minds. Mildly diverting entertainment to get them ready for bed is more appropriate, and several stations have risen to the challenge of post-pub programming with differing results.
To begin at the beginning. In the opening titles of The Word a beautiful couple arrive back after (we imagine) a few Mexican beers at a cool club. On goes the tv as an accompaniment to some dalliance on the sofa. However, so exciting are the opening credits to The Word that they stop taking each other?s clothes off, and settle down to watch the show. The message here is: cool people watch the show because it?s even cooler than they are. Unfortunately, anyone as cool as The Word wants its audience to be would be doing something much more impressive on a Friday night than watching the telly.
Fantasy Football?s credits start with a slow pan around a dingy living room strewn with beer cans and chip bags. Our heroes (Frank Skinner and David Baddiel) are shown slumped in front of the TV, male-bonding in their desire to be Terry Venables. There are no women in sight, and the blokes have definitely been in all evening. The message is: lads like this watch the programme.
Both British programmes try far too hard to have a hope of success. In contrast, one of the reasons The End works is because it doesn?t try; it?s relaxed, it?s laid back, it?s languid ? and at 11.30 at night languid is what you need.
Fantasy Football is a 26 year-old trying to act like a kid, while The Word is a teenager trying desperately to shock ? remember it was the first programme to dare show a close-up of a penis live on tv (although I am told that Mark Lamarr is much better on radio).
?The End?, however, is a favourite uncle who is hip enough to do stupid things just because he wants to. Alan Robinson, Series Producer, enjoys the freedom he?s given to experiment on The End: ?We sit down on Tuesday and look back at the weekend?s shows, and ask ?Are we really getting away with this???.
This flexibility is seen in the emphasis given to viewers? letters. These vary from the gently amusing to the downright weird, accurately catching the spirit of the show itself. Such a close bond with the viewers contrasts with The Word and Fantasy Football, which both have studio audiences acting as buffers between the real world and tv land.
?The letters show that people understand what we?re about, which is gratifying,? says Robinson. ?The viewers are starting to write the script for us now.?
While The Word shows off its name and its own importance in 30-foot high capital letters at the back of the heaving studio, The End calmly and languidly suggests deeper meaning behind its simple set and modest lower-case typography. Ironic where the other two are moronic, it doesn?t have to win me over with footie-lads? male bonding, or pseudo-trendy ?be in my gang? cool. The End says, if you?re not doing anything tonight after a few pints, have a look at me.
Robinson says the show is doing respectably in the ratings: ?There?s an available audience out there, and we?ve got a reasonable share of it. Not bad for a table and two bits of wall.?
(first published in The Irish Times, Saturday, Jan 14th, 1995)