Hidden Down The TV Guide #8 - Have I Got A Dead Show For You
The philosopher Nietzsche had a theory. He said that the "once is never", although he said it in German with lots of fruity reasoning and stuff to make it sound clever. What it means is that the first time you do a thing is the same as when you haven't done it, and that only through repetition do such tasks or experiences gain meaning through relativity. I think this is why men like lists. Lists of your top 5 cups of tea, top 5 footballers with ginger hair and top 5 erotic vegetables (that's my favourite). Anyhoo, what our German friend teaches us is that repetition is good.
Nowhere is this truer than on TV. There were 20 years of Cheers and Frasier, hundreds of episodes of MASH and only three of that Ironside reboot. On these shores, we are into the 47th iteration of Have I Got News For You, which itself came from BBC radio's the News Quiz which began in 1977 and still exists in that form. When HIGNFY started it featured rumpled surrealist comedian Paul Merton, balding short satirist Ian Hislop and housewife's choice Angus Deayton as the host. Two teams fought for points on the news of the day throwing in witticisms and mirth along the way. The show was irreverent and very successful and soon moved onto BBC one given it's huge audiences. Deayton's face was all over telly, on Mr Bean and in One Foot in the Grave, he won awards and was thought of as the thinking woman's crumpet (presumably heterosexual and bisexual women only). Merton was the one who deflated any ego and went off on one, and Hislop was posh and smug and biting. They had a chemistry that worked very well.
Until Deayton's star rose too high and his co-horts were in his shadow. Then the chemistry was cattier and the disdain barely concealed, and when newspapers printed stories about the hosts' lifestyle the other two couldn't help but laugh and leer and attempt to destroy him. Ever wonder why you never see Stephen Fry on HIGNFY, well it's rumoured to be because of Deayton's treatment by Merton and Hislop. Here's where it all ended...
Since those days Merton has owned how much he hated Deayton and his glee at his downfall, and watching it now leaves a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth. That was back in series 23 and the show has continued without a set host ever since. This has brought some classic episodes when guest hosts have been spectacularly outrageous and some intriguing ones where capable celebrities have performed well. The likes of Alexander Armstrong, Kirsty Young, and Damian Lewis have all been asked back after doing well, and the likes of Boris Johnson, William Shatner and Brian Blessed are mad memories that many cherish.
Nowadays the show has become self satisfied, unsurprising and rather up itself. Hislop dominates the verbiage, Merton does schtick to pick up a cheque and the whole thing has been revealed as rather less off the cuff than it originally seemed. The producers settle for competent dull hosts - Jo Brand still doing fat jokes, David Mitchell being comfortably ironic and theatrically angry etc. It's time we agreed that this cash cow is out of milk.
When announcing the end of the dreadful Waterloo Road this week, the BBC used the euphemism that it was ending "to make way for new series" and I think that logic applies to the 47th and hopefully final run of a show that no longer entertains. Repetition is not good at this point and even German thinkers would know that 48 is too many. The Beeb needs stop it now and give us something better