Did 10 O'Clock Live ever stand a chance? | Lorcan Mullan on the news the topical show is no more

Did 10 O'Clock Live ever stand a chance?

Lorcan Mullan on the news the topical show is no more

I stuck it out with 10 O’Clock Live right up to the end. Well, that’s not entirely true. I watched the whole of the first episode, then caught bits and pieces of the rest of the first series before subscribing to the podcast version of the show for the second and third. But I believe that’s a heck of a lot more time than most TV reviewers ever gave the show after its stuttering premiere.

10 O’Clock Live had faults that were personal to the show itself, but also indicative of the continuing problems we have with making TV comedy in this country. The show was doomed from the start by its good intentions. I remember being bombarded with ads for the show everywhere I went. They all but begged us to watch the first episode because it would change the face of TV news. Surely someone should have realised it would almost certainly be the worst episode in their run because no one would have a bloody clue what worked and what didn’t yet.

As such, it resulted in the show being almost automatically unfairly judged as a failure, and that stink remained there even as the show improved. If you gave the same advertising campaign for something like Only Fools and Horses it would nowadays never be able to reach the third series when it finally started to become a national treasure.

The producers piled talent from sitcom, stand-up, radio and newspapers to up the interest and attract the eyes of each presenter's respective fanbase. Unfortunately, this comedy supergroup turned out to be less Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and more SuperHeavy. Look it up. I had to.

Captain of the team Lauren Laverne is a fine presenter with a warmth and natural wit, but she was put in the role of master of ceremonies so all the funny boys could get most of the jokes, and she’d get one part every episode where she wasn’t just linking to the others. That segment was also the most obviously committee-written piece of the show and gave her no sense of individual personality.

Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe was already doing the job of a thought-provoking and funny take on weekly news, and the nature of television journalism itself. That’s because it catered to Brooker’s strengths and was trying to be a variation on the Wipe formula that had been proven to work.

10 O'Clock Live tried to fit the square peg of Brooker’s media montage rants into the round hole of live studio comedy. It was clear that Brooker’s rhythm would be knocked off balance by the sudden interruption of laughter and applause, and the utterly unnecessary ‘live’ gimmick meant that flubs couldn’t be covered by second takes and editing. The audience itself (stupidly kept within shot during the whole show to up the awkwardness) were desperately trying to do what an eager floor manager had probably told them, which was to whoop, cheer, loudly laugh at every sentence as long as they recognised the cadence of a joke (and if it was funny, all the better!), rally behind an astute (usually Guardian-friendly liberal) point made by a host or guest and generally try to be more… well… American.

David Mitchell (a veteran of other failed topical discussion shows such as FAQ U and The Last Word) was positioned as the Jon Stewart-like intellectual equal and teller of truth to the literal faces of power. Channel 4 must have hoped he would soon be sitting opposite Cameron, Milliband, and maybe even a Clinton, if the show gathered the cultural clout they dreamed.

However, to me his interactions with the likes of Alistair Campbell, David Willets and Bob Crow, coupled with the his editorial rants, came across less like a Paxman in the making, and more like the Sixth Form swot trying to show off to the teachers and other parents that he was very well informed and wise beyond his years. As for his chairing of the cross-panel debates with several guests, he would get in some good off-the-cuff quips but would more often than not struggle desperately to stop everyone yelling at the same time.

Also, if the best people you can get to debate an issue on your show are the likes of Katie Hopkins, Janet Street-Porter and Peter Stringfellow, then the question needed to be asked if it's a debate worth having in the first place.

Jimmy Carr was actually the most problematic in so far as going against their intention of using satire as a form of actual news reporting. Carr’s mentality is to just find the joke, the quicker the better, and would unwittingly undermine any deeper, more involved discourse the show may have subsequently attempted in the ensuing hour by just airily dismissing the matter in his opening monologue with a pun or ‘ironic’ dodgy viewpoint.

He was a poor choice for the in character monologue in the middle of each episode, due to his weaknesses as an actor. By which I mean he can't act. And if anyone in the team should have been in this role it was Mitchell. It felt like they just put Carr on to something else in the show because his quick gag style wasn’t a good fit for a one hour show and they needed to give him more than just five minutes at the start.

Also, there was the tax thing.

I doubt that the ending of the show was greeted with a heavy heart by any of the show’s four stars. They may have forgotten that it wasn't officially cancelled already. I fear that it will not be a lesson learnt for long by those in charge of commissioning TV and we’ll have more shows like 10 O’Clock Live that continue to make the same mistakes. But that’s for another column.

Anyway, it’s worth listening to the old episodes – especially by the time of the third series. Maybe if this had started as a low-profile show filled with unknowns then they might have started to build a fanbase and eventually become half the hit deluded executives had thought it would be from the start.

You know, like The Daily Show was about 200 episodes into their run.

• Lorcan Mullan tweets at @lorcanmullan.

Published: 23 Oct 2014

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