The BBC was right to axe Shooting Stars

Chris Hallam says the show had had its day

Shooting Stars has been cancelled. Few people (other than those involved) are likely to seriously mourn its passing: the BBC already has too many panel shows and Shooting Stars was well past its best. Yet its axing is still surprising simply because it has proved so resilient in the past.

It’s only when you try and describe Shooting Stars – which had its first series way back in 1995 – that precisely how strange the whole idea behind it seems. Although never a parody of any particular programme, the cheap props, catchphrases (‘Uvavu’, ‘We really want to see those fingers’, ‘What are the scores George Dawes?’, ‘50s throwback’ Mark Lamarr) and corny mistimed voiceovers gave the whole thing the feel of a 70s quiz show.

Yet at the same time, this description seems woefully inadequate. It actually didn’t look anything like any 70s quiz show there has ever been. The fact that it was genuinely quite cheap looking and relied on celebrities actually counted in its favour. It was novel, fresh and, for a while, very funny.

Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer have never had a more successful vehicle. Their early shows Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out and The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer launched their TV careers and gave them a solid – slightly fanatical - fan base.

But some people would never like them and indeed, still don’t. By mixing their subversive surreal humour into a conventional TV format, they actually produced a show watched and enjoyed by people who would never enjoy them on anything else. Harry Hill, another comic then with a dedicated but small fan base later pulled off a similar trick of breaking into the mainstream with TV Burp.

None of this would matter had Shooting Stars not been funny. The guests were actually of surprisingly good quality in the first two series (Stephen Fry, Robbie Williams, Jarvis Cocker) and didn’t mind humiliating themselves. Ex-Coronation Street actress Lynne Perrie famously appeared drunk on air prompting Lamarr to immediately guess ‘Oliver Reed’ during the Impressions Round.

Ulrika (‘Ulrikka-ka-ka’) Jonsson revealed a comic touch and would probably no longer be in the public eye were it not for the show, while as scorekeeper George Dawes, Matt Lucas enjoyed his biggest dose of fame before Little Britain exploded in 2004.

By 1997 the show had already become self-indulgent. Many were surprised when it returned in 2002 but the imaginative use of Johnny Vegas and the bizarre and surprisingly successful choice of novelist Will Self as regular panellists kept it going for another two series.

A full seven years passed before Shooting Stars returned. Once again, its return was greeted with mutterings of discontent. But thanks in no small measure to an impressive performance by Dan Skinner as the tramp-like Angelos Epithemiou. Series 6 in 2009 somehow managed to remain remarkably fresh.

It didn’t last. Despite his new fame Matt Lucas had surprisingly returned as George Dawes but left for Series 7 and 8. Angelos replaced him, but didn’t work in the new role. Vic and Bob were ageing as was the format.  It wasn’t the same.

So it’s goodbye to Shooting Stars, a show that in the best way possible, had refused to die. And with Harry Hill reputed to be keen to give up on ITV’s TV Burp perhaps the timing isn’t so bad. Vic and Bob’s TV Burp? Stranger things have happened.

Published: 23 Nov 2011

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