The continuity announcer promised you "the gift of the Gaby", an understandably tempting pun given the nature of the programme, but one which unfortunately concentrated the mind on just what Gaby's gifts are. That she possesses some is indisputable - she has an ease on screen that is difficult to arrive at by hard work alone and which allows her a rapid intimacy with strangers. On The Real Holiday Show this unthreatening, gossipy curiosity is perfectly suited to the material - even a hint of condescension or superiority would puncture the gaudy buoyancy of the thing, send the lilo to the bottom of the pool. But "the gift of the gab" implies a little more than that. It suggests an ability to match the guests word for word and even Gaby's greatest fans might draw the line there - indeed on The Big Breakfast a large part of her charm was the readiness with which she could be thrown into sweet confusion by her co-presenter, provoked to a giggling, inarticulate indignation at what he had just said. In that show she was the good sport, contractually employed to come second without ever minding.

The opening moments of The Gaby Roslin Show suggested that success had not changed her, a fact that was reassuring on a personal level, rather ominous on a professional one. She appeared, to a conventional chat-show fanfare, at the head of the conventional chat-show staircase, to a conventional chat-show burst of applause. Her response to this was physical, a combination of amazed looks and a little shiver, which could best be interpreted as "Oooh, look - it's little me - on my own chat show!". And what followed was much more like a pastiche of a talk show than the real thing - a determined but misguided attempt to prove that the traditional formats could survive the near fatal assaults of Alan Partridge and Mrs Merton.

So you had the liturgy of large promise ("What a line-up we've got"), the gravely terse "difficult question" ("Did you hit her?" in the case of Ike Turner), the multiple orgasm of successive guest introductions ("My next guest I think is one of the funniest men in the whole wide world"). At this Roslin is fine, unstintingly generous in her attempts to deflect every modesty or demurral on the part of her guests. Her desire to make them feel good about themselves positively gleams, like a sheen of perspiration. What you don't get, though, is much sense of exchange; her encounter with Ike Turner was more like a pre-flight check-list than a conversation, a sequence of inquiries designed to elicit well-rehearsed anecdotes from a veteran of the talk-show circuit. When he side-stepped her with candour she had nowhere else to go but repetition - "But you did hit her, didn't you?" was her incisive follow-up to a detailed explanation, complete with arm movements, of exactly how he had struck Tina Turner.

There isn't, either, much sense that the guests need to watch their language, to keep their wits about them. The young black singer, who delivered what must be the campest version of "Sexual Healing" ever recorded, revealed in the subsequent interview that his Christian friends had attempted to exorcise his homosexuality. "To the point of men laying their hands on me," he recalled, "and saying, `Come out, in the name of Jesus'." This dense thicket of double entendres passed without a flicker of recognition on either side. Letterman would have simply raised an eyebrow to camera and harvested a big laugh, but either Gaby didn't want to upset him or she simply hadn't heard. Such was the spirit of revival that I wondered idly for a moment whether his extravagant black feather boa would leap out and attack the interviewer, thus bringing the nation together in a moment of bonding nostalgia, but a sense of irony is not among the show's strengths. Tony Bennett will be there next week but I won't.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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