Inside Television: John Oliver bucks the Piers Morgan effect on HBO

 

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The Independent Culture

Another week, another tragic mass shooting in America, another excuse for inveterate feuder Piers Morgan to take to Twitter and bait his American followers on the subject of gun control. Of all the controversial, strident and simply ill-mannered aspects of the ex-tabloid editor’s now cancelled CNN show Piers Morgan Tonight, it is likely his gun control crusade which contributed most directly to the show being pulled off air in March.

It seems likely Morgan’s Brit accent was considered an asset when he was first chosen to fill Larry King’s time slot, but no patriot likes to be told what to do by a foreigner. If that foreigner speaks in the voice of a former colonial power, so much the worse. Morgan was not only apparently insensitive to this facet of the US/UK relationship, but he regularly spoke over his American guests and insinuated (or directly stated) that they were stupid. Morgan’s brand of condescending sanctimony was enough to give even the gun-hating Brits an itchy trigger finger. Fortunately our only outlet for such urges is the TV remote control.

To add to his sins, Morgan might have put paid to the ambitions of every other British TV personality hoping to reach a larger international audience, were it not for the swift succession of John Oliver to the post of ‘Chief Brit Who Points Out America’s Cultural Flaws’. A 37 year-old Cambridge graduate from Birmingham, Oliver first came to notice in the States as a correspondent on current affairs comedy The Daily Show. Reporting on topics including gun control, Oliver quickly became much more famous in America than he’d ever been in the UK, as the co-host of cult podcast The Bugle and an occasional Mock The Week panelist.

Last summer Oliver stood in for Jon Stewart as Daily Show host and was so successful, many expected him to replace the American comedian permanently, when he eventually retires. Instead, to borrow an American metaphor, Oliver threw them all a curveball, with what I like to think of as typically British verve. He started hosting his own similar show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on rival channel HBO last month.

How does a Brit get away with lecturing Americans about their socio-political shortcomings? Well, for a start, unlike Piers Morgan, Oliver doesn’t actually lecture. His style is to teases, tickle and he gently cajole absurdities from the week’s headlines, always with a humble/humorous awareness of Britain’s own blighted track record. Not that it’s always easy to get the balance right, as Oliver recalled in a recent interview: “The worst experience I had was an immigration officer, an American lady, saying, 'Give me one good reason I should let you back in to insult my country,' I felt a pulse of ice go through me. Then she said, 'Oh, I'm just kidding, I love the show.'”

Would you credit it?

If you’re watching Mr Sloane, Sky Atlantic’s new 1969-set dramedy, you’ll have been enjoying the performance of fabulously-named Ophelia Lovibond, as a hippie chick love interest. A Bond girl in waiting, if ever there was one, Miss Lovibond says she gets fan mail delightfully mis-addressed to “Ophelia Lovely-bum”. It’s a silly name, but as my fellow credit-watchers will know, far from the silliest. A gentleman called Speed Weed is a producer on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Tip Tipping was a top stuntman working on The Bill and Doctor Who until his sad death in 1993 and it’s always worth looking out for ‘Cricket Sloat’ in the closing credits. Despite a name best-suited to the stage, he/she works various roles in the camera and electrical department.

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