Life after the black polo-neck

A year ago this week, on 21 June 1995, The Late Show finally departed from our screens. After more than 1,000 editions, six years of strutting its stuff, and a host of brainy presenters, the wolf had howled its last, leaving half a million viewers without their regular cultural fix. No more Sarah Dunant, no more Tracey MacLeod, no more carefree cantering through apparently unrelated fields, no more bust-ups between Keats and Dylan, no more double bills with Newsnight. Michael Jackson, the programme's former editor and now Controller of BBC2, was philosophical. "I am very proud of The Late Show's achievements," he said. "But nothing lasts for ever." Twelve months on, Ariadne Birnberg looks for solace in the current crop of arts programmes

THE SOUTH BANK SHOW

Age: A mature and well-coiffed 18 years old.

Frequency: Sunday nights, 26 weeks a year.

Ratings: Averages 2m. Hit a ceiling of 5.5m with a crowd-pleasing profile of Dawn French.

Formula: ITV's flagship arts show. Hour-long promo, sorry, portrait of the artist and his/her work, pioneered and steered by Melvyn Bragg on a kaleidoscope of subjects, from Sting to Vermeer, Coronation Street to Howard Hodgkin. In 18 years, you name it and the South Bank Show has probably done it.

Promo? According to some churlish critics, the SBS has gone soft on its subjects of late. The word "hagiography" has been mentioned. A recent edition on Dame Barbara Cartland was particularly fluffy.

According to Melvyn: Not so. Making the arts accessible is a democratic aspiration. Wacky camera angles and chiaroscuro lighting are not the only way to make a point. There are, after all, "a hundred ways to skin a cat".

Anything that makes you want to kick the set in? Irritatingly catchy jazzed-up Paganini theme tune.

The bottom line - is it any good? All told, it's still a flagship - maybe flagging, but not yet sunk.

WITHOUT WALLS (RIP)

Age: It would have been six.

Frequency: Wednesday nights, two seasons of about eight weeks each a year (until last month).

Ratings: An average of 2m.

Formula: Two half-hour pieces within a one-hour slot. Scope for diatribe and hero-worship accommodated by "J'Accuse" and "J'Adore" formats. One notable edition featured Camille Paglia delivering a blistering semiotic analysis of the iconography pertaining to Princess Diana. Another, decidedly less sprightly edition featured Vivienne Westwood, looking uncannily like Margaret Thatcher in all but dress, waltzing unsteadily through her personal history of fashion. Iconoclastic, provocative and innovative are all words once associated with Without Walls.

Isn't there a retrospective air about this? Yes indeed. Without Walls and Douglas the armadillo are, sadly, no more.

Sadly? Not for some. "Thinks it's on the ball, whilst being out of touch," according to the Independent's John Lyttle, who recently appeared on Jaci Stephen's one-fingered salute to the "New Lads".

The bottom line - was it any good? That's a contentious question. But that, surely, was its (selling) point.

BIG MOUTH

Age: Born this March, kicking and screaming.

Frequency: Tuesday nights, for a nine-week run. Future development by no means certain.

Ratings: Exactly.

Formula: Loud, lippy and opinionated cultural review, incorporating studio interviews (brief), record reviews (rapid) and TV "essays" (more like one-liners) delivered by a host of expanding violets on topics such as John Major's "verbal pratfalls" and the cred attached to Irish descent in America. Cultural deconstruction on speed.

Sounds like a vehicle for: Yep, Tony Parsons, held by some to be a breath of fresh air in a moribundly middle-class industry, and by others to be a breath of fresh air approximately once every six months, if that, and haven't we all heard enough of him anyway? Joined by Miranda Sawyer, fellow verbal junkie, on record reviews.

What the blurb says: "Big Mouth is the next generation of cultural review programmes."

What the critics say: God help us.

Opening sequence: Andy Warhol meets Keith Haring meets the Tango ad.

The bottom line? All mouth no teeth.

THE WORKS

The what? OK, so it's only just started. A tender two months old.

Frequency: Prime-time Tuesday evenings - an early bird as far as arts programmes go. First series in the bag. We wait with baited breath ...

Ratings: Averaging 1m.

What's it all about then? Well, it's got a beginning, a middle and an end, and has a very flexible remit.

A riddle? No. A story. The concept behind the Beeb's latest arts documentary series is all about spinning a good yarn. "No single theme links all the films in the series," says Mike Poole, series editor, "except for the fact that they take real pleasure in storytelling."

What kind of stories? An eclectic mix, from Ben Woolley's film on Walt Disney's soon-to-be-realised dream of a perfect city ("Celebration"), to psychoanalyst Darian Leader's take on Francis Bacon ("In the Name of the Father").

But does it work? The critical consensus says yes. "On the pulse of what's going on," according to Lucy Ellmann, the IoS's TV critic.

For example? The FBI's most wanted man was actually caught while a scheduled programme on the Unabomber was being completed.

The bottom line: Very promising.

OMNIBUS

Age: A venerable, statesmanlike 25. The grandaddy of the genre.

Frequency: In its current incarnation, Monday nights, two seasons (of variable length) a year.

Ratings: Level-pegging with The South Bank Show, cheek to the Omnibus jowl. Waxed to more than 5m for Peter Cook, waned to 1m for Jean Renoir.

Formula: Definitely not "man on the Clapham...", despite being an anagram of "bus in mo". Omnibus presents the Big Names Of The Arts World, often timed to accompany much-hyped exhibitions of their work. Recent profiles of Eve Arnold and Degas are cases in point. Iconoclastic, irreverent, provocative and opinionated are all words not associated with Omnibus.

Little known facts: 1) The series editor is Nigel Williams, of Wimbledon Poisoner fame; 2) Once, in the programme's early history, Omnibus was presented by Barry Norman. And why not?

What even the young critics say: Due respect.

The bottom line - is it any good? Difficult to summarise 25 years of output in a single sentence. However, traditional, solidly well-made arts documentary series, might do.

LATE REVIEW

Age: About two and a half. Originally part of The Late Show, now an independent young thing.

Frequency: Thursday nights, a gruelling schedule of 35 shows a year.

Ratings: Half a million. Who says "public service" means popular?

Formula: Sparky, round-table debate on the arts highlights of the week, intended to cut across the high/low divide. "A more conversational, more accessible, more middle-brow version of the Late Show," according to series editor Mike Poole (again).

Agreed? Not by all. Still held by certain critics to be an unedifyingly smug bout of metropolitan ego-wrestling.

Egos involved: Mark Lawson is the cuddly chair. Critics can be classified as the stalwarts (Tony Parsons, Tom Paulin, Allison Pearson - memorably described as the show's Holy Trinity), the increasingly frequent (John Carey, Kate Kellaway, Jim White, Germaine Greer and Suzanne Moore - ouch) and the left-field occasionals (Darcus Howe, Paul Gambaccini).

Curious unsisterly fact: Female critics apparently do not like appearing with other female critics. So much for solidarity.

Last word goes to: Invariably Mark Lawson. !

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on