TFI Friday changed the British chat show format - but not entirely for the better

How much have talk shows really moved on since Chris Evans shouted “Wiiiiiiill” for the last time?

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

TFI Friday celebrates an anniversary this evening with a special one-off episode featuring original host Chris Evans, Jeremy Clarkson’s first post-Top Gear interview and a performance from a supergroup comprising both Liam Gallagher and Ian Broudie from the Lightning Seeds.

While most pop culture nostalgia serves as an unpleasant reminder of the passing years, there’s nothing shocking in the news that this chat show-meets-pub lock-in is 20 years old. With its laddish line-up and Britpop soundtrack, TFI Friday feels very much like a relic of a different era. But how much have talk shows really moved on since Evans shouted “Wiiiiiiill” for the last time?

Read more:

In 1996 TFI Friday arrived on British television partly in answer to the US late night format of David Letterman and Jay Leno, which had never really caught on in the rest of the world. Like The Late Show or The Tonight Show, TFI Friday combined chat with musical performance and regular features in questionable taste, such as the self-explanatory ‘Fat Lookalikes’. You wouldn’t get away with it today, but these were the years of the Gallagher brothers’ swagger, of Euro ’96 and Cool Britannia, and TFI Friday seemed to reflect and bask in it all.

So although the show officially ended in 2000, the party raged on. If you have squirmed at Wossy’s uncomfortably flirtatious interview style on The Jonathan Ross Show, know that Chris Evans got there first, declaring his love to Texas front woman Sharleen Spiteri live on air. Graham Norton and Alan Carr have carried on the silly skit tradition, albeit in a kindlier fashion, and now the chummy, blokey, Evans-influenced host James Corden has been exported back to the US, like a tuxedo-wearing coal to Newcastle.

These changes haven’t pleased everyone. When King of Chat Michael Parkinson was ready to call time on his 40-year career in 2007, he declared the chat show was dead, and many media commentators concurred. There was, he warned, too much celebrity sycophancy, obviously orchestrated chaos and hosts who never let their guests get a word in edgeways — all TFI Friday traditions which have largely continued to this day.

If TV commissioners want to breath new life into an old format, they’ll have to go further back than 1996 for inspiration. Back to 1987, perhaps, when the still young and experimental Channel 4 launched a chat show which began at midnight and ended only when the guests had run out of things to say. It included lengthy discussions of big ideas, regular walk-outs from government MPs and a drunk Oliver Reed demanding kisses. Remember After Dark? Now, there’s a series we really could do with reviving.

Foreign drama that's to die 4

Subtitles no longer terrify us and BBC Four is not the only home of foreign drama. Swedish Crime thriller Jordskott is currently showing on ITV Encore, a new series of Danish family drama The Legacy starts tonight on Sky Arts and Channel 4 has just announced a new on-demand service, 4World Drama scheduled to launch in the autumn.

Clearly there’s a world of great TV out there which is yet to reach British audiences, so what would we hope to see on the new service? HBO Latin America has already given its seal of approval to Prófugos, a series about a family-run drug cartel and Chile’s answer to The Sopranos. Buyers at 4World Drama must have an eye on the action-packed Japanese historical drama Yae no Sakura, which was nominated for an International Emmy last year. Then there’s Swedish sci-fi Real Humans which also looks good, although C4 may choose to wait until Humans, its much-hyped, English-language re-make is off air, to avoid any awkward comparisons.


The Tribe, All4

Not to be confused with the similarly named Bruce Parry series, this fixed camera doc gives us amazing access to the day-to-day life of an extended family in the traditional Hamar tribe of Southern Ethiopia. Ageing patriarch Ayke Muko is a cantankerous sort, but he takes a shine to the “funny foreigner” asking questions behind the camera.

Orange Is the New Black (series 3), Netflix

The women’s prison drama is back for a third season and New York yuppie Piper (Taylor Schilling) is now only one of many inmates with a story to tell. This means there are opportunities for Litchfield Penitentiary’s large and likeable cast of characters to expand even further. Can head writer Jenji Kohan keep all those plates spinning? Of course she can.

The Met, BBC iPlayer

C4 dramedy Babylon had a storyline about an all-access Met police documentary, and now here’s the real thing. This first fascinating episode takes a look at the race relations fallout following the shooting of an unarmed black man on the streets of Tottenham in 2011. Does the new Haringey borough commander have what it takes to heal a community?

How to Be Bohemian with Victorian Coren Mitchell, BBC iPlayer

It’s rather a shame this was recorded too early to include a section on flying in style, à la Kate Moss, but this erudite history of “painters, poets, pioneers and provocateurs” still includes plenty of lively characters. You also get the impression that sensible host Victoria doesn’t always approve of their shenanigans, which makes her narration all the more entertaining.