Back in the days when – unravaged by the cumulative effects of time, drink, drugs, sloth and dementia – I still had the brain power to surprise even myself with my intelligence and improvised perspicacity, I once travelled to Canada to attend a family wedding.
One evening, drinking beers with my aunt’s husband in Toronto with the television on in the background, I had remarked upon the frequency with which North American programmes were interrupted by commercials, i.e. about once every five minutes.
This statement allowed my host to extemporise upon the poor general quality of North American television. In doing so, he pointed out that, taking Canada and the US together, he had access to over 250 channels television “but none of them showing anything worth watching”. He went on to hail British television as the best in the world, citing in evidence the several quality drama, natural history and comedy series then airing on the Canadian public service broadcaster.
It was then that I had one of my aforementioned ‘insightful moments’. Perhaps adopting my slightly controversial line as a means of provoking discussion, I begged to differ.
I said it was a myth that British television was the best in the world. The most that I could allow was that it was possibly the least worst in the world.
If you took the view, as I did, that sitting in front of the goggle box (an ‘opiate of the masses’ if ever there was one) was bad for the human condition, and indeed constitution, then it was quite possible to argue that the North American experience was far superior.
There was so much North American television – and of such variable quality – that the population rarely bothered to watch it, which was arguably just how television should be treated.
In Britain, where at the time (as I said earlier, it was a long while back) there were only four channels, there was a pathological imperative to plan your evenings – and indeed meal times – around the television schedule, probably in case you missed something entertaining, fascinating or newsworthy and as a result, felt an outsider the next day when it was discussed by your peers congregated at the office water dispenser.
In contrast, in North America, the average viewer merely skimmed through the television ‘what’s on’ guide to identify the half dozen (maximum) programmes worth watching that week and then ignored the rest.
By ‘ignored the rest’, I didn’t mean that they only switched on their television five or six times a week, in order to see the programmes that mattered.
Au contraire. Mostly, as in Britain, North American televisions were ‘on’ for hours at a time – it was just that their viewers didn’t pay them much attention.
By this route, if something vital or newsworthy occurred [e.g. a political assassination, the demise of a space capsule or a huge sporting upset] and programmes were interrupted by a newsflash, they would sit up and concentrate. However, on a normal, unremarkable day, our North American cousins took about as much interest in their television programmes as they did of what was happening in their pet goldfish bowls.
Ending with a flourish, I concluded by declaring that this was ‘television placed in its proper place in the scheme of things’ and therefore – in my view – North American television (rather than British) was ‘the best in the world’.
Taking my cue from my own tortuous proposition that the poorer that television programmes are, the better they are – i.e in the sense that, in terms of benefit to their souls, potential viewers would be moved to avoid watching them – by 8.00pm I had found myself channel-hopping in search of something to keep me from going to bed quite so early and came across a new offering from Channel Four.
I should point out that I rarely watch reality television shows and have only a passing familiarity with epics such as The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice, Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing On Ice, Celebrity Big Brother and ITV’s Tom Daley-led Splash!
However, Ladies and Gentleman, let me present to you the latest and all-time classic ‘so bad it’s good’ disaster Jump.
If, like me, you are an ambulance-chaser-type who takes delight in watching a total artistic horlicks unfold, this one is for you. Without hesitation, I can confidently assert that it is the worst programme I have ever set eyes upon.
Here’s the scheme.
In the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics, you take an incongruous bunch of C-list celebrities – last night’s line-up included comedian Marcus Brigstocke, superannuated pop singer Sineeta, Anthea Turner, several pneumatic bimbos, a former boy band member, ex-cricketer Darren Gough, hairdresser Nicky Clarke and Olympian great Sir Steve Redgrave – out to Austria. You plug in the intensely-annoying Davina McCall as main presenter and surround them with experts like skier Martin Bell, Eddie ‘The Eagle ‘ Edwards and sports commentator Barry Davies. You then set them the task of learning a raft of winter sports disciplines – e.g. giant slalom, tabogganing, ski jumping – with the idea of holding competitions in each, with the two bottom-of-the-table competitors then ‘jumping off’ (literally, i.e. down a ski jump) for the right not to be evicted.
If the theory reads badly, you should have seen the actuality.
The show opened with Davina on a terrace beside the ski jump, introducing the competitors to us amidst a cacophony of Alpine enthusiasm (cow bells, whoops of encouragement etc.) from the crowd contained behind a fence on the hill, probably – I soon guessed – all of them friends and family of the contestants. I say that because there was no earthly reason why any citizen of Austrian would wish to watch this rubbish.
After cursory interviews with the participants – all of them variations on the theme ‘I’m so scared that I’m sure this is going to be a disaster for me’ – Davina then spent two-thirds of the hour-long programme introducing video clips of the male competitors skiing inelegantly down a beginners’ giant slalom course. This might have been moderately interesting if there had been hilarious falls or catastrophic crashes but, sadly, all of our heroes managed to complete the course without mishap.
[Message to Channel Four: broadcasting footage of celebrities skiing badly does not, in itself, make for ratings-winning television.]
The two ‘losers’ consigned to the jump-off were the boy band member and Nicky Clarke. These were interviewed about their undoubtedly-genuine fears of doing a ski jump, intercut with impressive shots looking down the largest of the launch pads.
The tension then increased as we went to a commercial break.
Back in Austria again, it was announced that both contestants had elected to go off the smallest of the three launch pads.
This they did. It was about as riveting as watching paint dry. Technically – despite Eddie The Eagle’s best efforts to talk things up – there was nothing so exciting as a jump involved. Both just flopped off the end of the launch pad – five year old kids might have done better.
Finally, the results we’d all been waiting to learn came up on the board.
The boy band member had survived the cut and Nicky Clarke was consigned to ‘going home’ and reality television history. For the record, the boy band member managed to leap all of 11 metres, whilst ‘second best of two’ Clarke achieved just 9.5.
This was a truly terrible television programme. At the end, I don’t know whether I heard Davina right but I thought she said that the next edition goes out tonight.
I have no hesitation in recommending all National Rust readers to cancel the babysitter and tune in.
I just cannot wait to see it!