Battle of the BBC banned
Jonathan Ross's three-month suspension from the BBC is having a discordant effect on the music industry, writes Nick Hasted
Friday 07 November 2008
Jonathan Ross unwittingly said goodbye for the last time in three months two Fridays ago. The torrent of public vitriol that saw him off suggests that this couldn't have come soon enough. But the viewing figures of nearly four million for his chat show tell a different story – and for the representatives of some of the biggest names in the music business, his absence has come as a bitter blow.
Of major acts with releases out in the lucrative lead-up to Christmas, including The Cure, Craig David and Stereophonics, only Razorlight got on to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross before the axe fell. The Killers and the Disney star Miley Cyrus lost booked appearances.
Meanwhile, newer bands such as Fleet Foxes have broken through to the cognoscenti this year. Ross could have introduced them to the wider public that is currently baying for his blood. The closing four minutes of his show, in which bands play, may look like a riotous afterthought, but the major labels plan promotion campaigns around the show's seasons. It is all that's needed to get an artist's CDs racked in stores the following Monday, and huge bumps in sales often result. Jonathan Ross can make a band's career.
"Performance-wise, it's very important for artist promotion," says Stuart Bell of the Outside Organisation, PR for David Bowie and Paul McCartney. "It's key – the Holy Grail for that kind of audience. If you do something like Later... with Jools Holland, you get the coolness and the credibility, but not always the viewing figures. There's no Parkinson now, either, and no alternative at this time of year. And November is so important. There's the morning shows, GMTV, which is fine for Leona Lewis. But if you're The Killers or Razorlight, you want Jonathan Ross."
There is no Top of the Pops now, or Saturday morning chart show on ITV. Even Later..., the only UK television show dedicated to live music almost since its inception, is now deliberately scheduled straight after Ross, from whom it picks up much of its audience. Several million others, though, have switched off. Ross is not only the grail, but the last game in town.
The options for PRs scrabbling to show off their acts to the mainstream public quietly damn the general state of British television, away from Ross's sometimes shoddy, previously untamed world. Scraping the average rock band out of bed for a stilted conversation with Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield on This Morning is a thankless task. But daytime shows such as this, and the relatively raunchy Loose Women, are the awful, Ross-less reality if a band wants to reach the wider world.
Daytime TV's over-lit, glazed grins have hardly changed since the days when greats such as Ray Davies were reduced to strumming songs on Pebble Mill at One, and The Sex Pistols were invited to "say something outrageous" on Bill Grundy's teatime Today. On Ross's show, the host is outrageous before the bands even come on. But at least Ross, however vaguely, knows who they are. Which puts him, alongside Jools Holland, in a select group of two.
The fallout in the music industry from that nasty indiscretion on Andrew Sachs's answerphone is now creeping through the schedules. The Killers had to make do with Later... and several million fewer viewers knowing that their new album Day & Age is out. Stereophonics' Kelly Jones has even popped up on Strictly Come Dancing. Craig David will not now be able to laugh off those Bo' Selecta! impressions with Ross in time for his Christmas Greatest Hits.
Friday Night with Jonathan Ross may return in January with a more cautious, repentant host. Minus his lazier excesses, he may even be better. But the many music PRs who didn't dare comment on the record for this article say everything about Ross's immediate future.
The British public seemed ready to string him up last week, but the British music industry needs him alive and kicking. Jonathan Ross has been shamed, but he remains, shamefully alone, as rock's most important taste-maker on television.
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