Media: If I Ruled The Airwaves

The Sun's TV columnist, Garry Bushell conjures up the variety theme night of his dreams
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The Independent Culture
WITH VIEWING figures on a permanent droop, it is clear that TV bosses need to find the cathode equivalent of Viagra to excite viewers and inflate ratings. The tragedy is they've got it, but have forgotten how effective it is...

Variety is the missing element, the big V. A proven success in all its forms, variety can be as nostalgic or as forward-looking as you want it to be. Variety simply means a mixture of performers - turns, as brilliant Lily Savage still calls them. It is the perfect mainstream entertainment - the antidote to specialist channelling. All tastes are catered for, and if you can't stand one act, relax, there will be another act along in a minute.

Here is my fantasy variety schedule:

6pm. Seaside Special. We kick our night off with something young, fast and fun. Dancers, comics, singers and spesh acts collide in a colourful explosion of talent from Britain's beach resorts.

In1987, Seaside Special and Summertime Special regularly gave BBC1 and ITV combined viewing figures of 23 million every Saturday. Eat yer hearts out Noel and Cilla. Other Eighties variety formats did just as impressively. Live from Her Majesty's clocked up 15.2 million, Starburst 14.7 mill. The standard industry line is that the mainstream TV audience is shrinking. But Del-Boy proves that when the programme is right, the millions flock back. The real reason viewers turn off? Saturday night TV stinks.

7pm. The Brian Conley Show. Conley was the last all-round entertainer to get through the door before TV slammed it shut. Tonight's episode opened the summer of 1994 series and includes the gravel-voiced comic's inspired take-off of the Jack Dee widget ads ("Midget, I've got a midget') along with classic kid-friendly comedy characters like Dangerous Brian, and Nick "It's a puppet!' Frisbee.

Produced and directed by Nigel Lythgoe, one of the few sure hands in modern light entertainment, this was a real family show. Too many producers forget the audience, to cater for a narrow metropolitan elite. They care about who is hip, not who is any good, which is why they can't find a new Morecombe & Wise.

7.45pm. New Faces. When it comes to talent shows, this is the score to beat. It produced great stars including Jim Davidson, Victoria Wood and Lenny Henry, and savaged the sub-standard. Judges like Tony Hatch and Mickie Most knew their stuff. When they said an act stank they were invariably right. But when they raved, TV executives sat up and took notice.

8.45pm. The Royal Variety Performance. The show of shows! Tonight we are screening edited highlights from the classic 1993 Royal starring Michael Barrymore before he lost the plot. The big loon was sensational, mixing staple elements of his stage show with unexpected delights including a superbly choreographed workout with squaddies.

The '93 Royal also made stars of Joe Pasquale and Bradley Walsh, Brad with his controlled comedy aggression, Joe with his daftness.

At the best Pasquale is like a crackpot cross between Tommy Cooper and Frank Spencer. Definitely more slight of mind than sleight of hand.

10pm. The Joe Longthorne Show. Who needs Stars In Their Eyes when Longthorne is a human jukebox? Joe is a world class talent, a singing impressionist with the reproductive accuracy of a Xerox machine.

TV wilfully ignores stars like Longthorne in favour of legions of autocue readers. Who other than a TV executive could look at the schedules and say, "I know what we need here - another show with Philip Schofield, or Anthea sodding Turner..."?

10.30pm. The Bob Monkhouse Show. Perhaps British TV's finest example of the chat/variety format. Bright, articulate and a master mirth-maker, Monkhouse made 32 shows for BBC2 between 1983 and 1986. The guest-list reads like a Who's Who of comedy, mixing America's funniest - Sid Caesar, Steven Wright, Rita Rudner and Jay Leno - with the cream of British comedians, immortals like Les Dawson, Ronnie Barker, Spike, Charlie Drake, Peter Cook and Frankie Howerd.

This special compilation includes Bob's own favourite guest, Bob Hope, along with Jim Carrey's only British appearance.

11.15pm. Variety 2000. My fast-cut fantasy showcase for undiscovered and under-used talent, including a regular slot for new country - the biggest thing in pop, but who'd know it from watching TV?

The audience is armed - with rotting fruit and veg. The late night scheduling allows a satisfying edge of danger and experimentation.

Garry Bushell's New Variety showcase is at The Green Room, Cafe Royal, London W1, on 20, 21 and 22 September