REVIEW / It was, quite literally, the death of the chat show

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The Independent Culture
IN HISTORIES of the chat show that have yet to be written, analysts will come to identify last night as the moment when the genre finally went belly-up. This is not necessarily because Knowing Me, Knowing You . . . with Alan Partridge (BBC 2) is the devastating body blow that TV natter so pointedly deserves, though it could be. It's more because the advent of Partridge on the same evening that Clive Anderson Talks Back (C4) returned for yet another series means that television now hosts more spoof chat shows than it does real chat shows.

Just as the devastation wrought by Dickens's portraits of workhouses, Yorkshire schools and debtors' prisons was somewhat mitigated by the fact that his targets were already either obsolescent or obsolete, Steve Coogan's permed and toupeed prey have already been slain. That thudding sound you hear when you watch Knowing Me, Knowing You is not the bullet being fired by a dead-eye marksman but a hammer banging one final nail into a coffin.

Still, Coogan is handy with a hammer. Partridge's apprenticeship on Radio 4 unveiled a bilious gargoyle with every finely sculpted detail in place apart from the one that radio cannot provide. As well as some fairly standard sight gags - the horse droppings in shot just behind Partridge's chair, the piddling fountain of knowledge ('to symbolise the show') - there are subtler joys to be gleaned from seeing as well as hearing mein host. Partridge's blazer, for example, is the colour of his voice, a sort of chortling Home Counties burgundy that reeks of ghastly self-satisfied bonhomie. Coogan does Partridge's mouth brilliantly too, curling it up on one side and holding it open as if it's just too plump with chat to close. Some of the visual stuff works less well.

The joke of modelling the set on the foyer of a top international hotel is less in the seeing than in the telling. The Roger Moore Room, set aside for the showpiece interview, was not as funny as the announcement in Partridge's earpiece that 'Roger Moore has just passed Heston Services'. The deadliest weapon of Coogan and his co-writers Patrick Marber and Armando Iannucci is their ear: Heston Services has undefinable comic properties, just like the inch-perfect name of the house band perched aloft in the 'musical mezzanine', Chalet.

The guests were well-observed and well-named too: Sue Lewis, Rebecca Front's breathy, monosyllabic show- jumper, was just right as the chat-show guest from whom you get no change whatsoever. When Keith Hunt, Marber's japey Northern television personality, called Partridge 'Al', it was the kind of detail that only surfaces once the character's entire biography has been previously plotted.

Alas, Partridge's favourite Bond didn't show, and he had to fumble his way through to the end of the show with insufficient material. This unearthed toe- curling memories of the time when Clive Anderson, standing in for Wogan and finding himself unable to talk to Bernard Manning any longer, was caught short by several minutes and had to busk it to the credits. Craig Charles, like Keith Hunt here, mercilessly pointed out that Anderson was dying on live television. This was a case of a send-up being so exact it immolated itself as well as its intended target.

Anyway, chat isn't completely dead, or not if the cast is right. On This Morning (ITV), where you find so many plugs it looks like the electrical department of a medium-sized DIY warehouse, Richard and Judy welcomed a pair of Avengers, Dame Diana Rigg and Joanna Lumley. As the pheromones fulminated on the sofa, you could picture them eating Partridge for breakfast.