First Night: 10 O'Clock Live, Channel 4
They had the big stories, but where were the big laughs?
Friday 21 January 2011
There could not be a better time to launch a satirical news show – Conservative governments being famously fertile ground for insurgent comedy – and, as it turned out, it was a pretty good day to launch one, too.
If Channel 4 had been praying for a breaking news story on which the first episode of 10 O'Clock Live could surf into our homes, it got its wish, with Alan Johnson's resignation late in the afternoon providing a good test of the team's nerve and reaction speed. It's very different if you're on the surfboard though – and the tough verdict at the end of an hour and five minutes of live broadcast was that this format is still wobbly on its feet.
The promise was not for a comedy show with quite a bit of politics – but a politics show with quite a bit of comedy. Somebody had even unwisely mentioned Jon Stewart's The Daily Show in the pre-publicity interviews. So it was a little disappointing to find that – although Jimmy Carr promised us a show about "the week and what's been in it" – it felt a lot more like "last week and the week before".
The set looked like Mondrian on acid – a flickering geometry of neon-bright colour – and the running order shared something of its frantic terror of potential dullness. No sooner had David Mitchell started a round-table discussion about bankers' bonuses than it seemed to be over again, having demonstrated only one thing clearly: that there were too many people around the table to let Mitchell get a proper grip on a forensic argument.
Charlie Brooker popped up to excoriate Sarah Palin – presenting his piece as a primer for beginners. Is the audience supposed to be people who aren't interested in politics at all but enjoy Brooker's sarcasm? Or were they just clinging to a package that had gone down well in the pilots, like a novice swimmer reluctant to let go of the float? Jimmy Carr's travel programme update on Tunisia was ill-conceived and "World News Now" – which packaged a piece on the recent Sudanese referendum as if it was celebrity relationship gossip – was simply embarrassing. Only when David Mitchell, a talented columnist in print, had a crack at Jeremy Hunt's plans for local television news did you get a sense of real, reactive edge entering the programme.
Thirty-five minutes into the programme Jimmy Carr also made a darkly pointed gag about the rumoured background to Alan Johnson's resignation. "We thought it was something tragic that we couldn't make jokes about," he said.
"Apparently it's just a man's life crumbling about him, so that's alright."
They need to move a lot faster if they're going to make this a must-watch programme. And they're going to have to bite harder – not just mock – if they want to make the programme actually matter.
They have the talent to do it. They need to shake off the nerves and ride the wave.
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