Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan mourned the passing of their terrestrial TV career yesterday with a swansong at the Edinburgh Festival. The couple said that their type of talk show had been made redundant by comedy hosts, gladiatorial interviewers and "manipulative" reality television series.
The couple, whose seven-year teatime contract with Channel 4 ended on Friday, made their comments at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. They reflected on the current state of television and spoke about their move to the new UKTV digital channel Watch, and revealed that Madeley was, as ever, going commando.
Madeley said: "I think that magazine shows with a strong talk-show element like ours are a dying breed and most talk shows these days are comedic vehicles – there's Jonathan Ross or Paul O'Grady.
"The arena in which the conversations are taking place is much more of an upbeat entertainment circus. We come from a journalistic school and our approach to interviews is quite linear, although we can go off-piste quite a lot."
The husband-and-wife team, who made a success of a moribund 5pm slot for Channel 4, said that their conversational style when interviewing figures such as Hillary Clinton can have more success than a Jeremy Paxman-style attack.
"I think that has an absolute place but sometimes that kind of questioning can become slightly relentless to a listener or viewer," Madeley said. "In my experience, a confrontational approach ... tends not to yield the answer you are going for. [When Finnegan asked Clinton about her husband's affair] you could see up until then the interview had been conducted with a clear pane of bulletproof glass between them and it just came down."
Finnigan agreed: "If you are really confrontational to someone, obviously the animal response is to pull right back and put up defences. To me, that is not an interview. Lots of people think that that gladiatorial style is the way to go, with politicians. I personally don't."
The couple, who denied any kind of spat with rival talk-show host Paul O'Grady, and refused to comment on Carol Vorderman's recent controversial departure from Countdown, did express some reservations about reality television.
Madeley said that although he cannot dance, he would be prepared to accept an invitation for Strictly Come Dancing if he had the time. "It's the only reality show I would cheerfully do," he said. "If you go on a reality show you surrender all freedom of will, you are manipulated and controlled."
Finnigan, who admitted that she would not be on television without their double act because she would prioritise her commitments to her "family and husband", decried celebrity culture. "I can't think of anything worse than surrendering my privacy and my dignity," she said. "I couldn't bear it. I will never do a reality television show.... Psychologically, it is absolutely merciless."
She added that their daughter Chloe's decision to pose for the men's magazine FHM made her "do a bit of thinking" after her own years of feminism but added that Chloe "has no illusions about it and is enjoying herself".
The couple, who were heading off on holiday to Nice, defended their audience as "literate, intelligent and engaged", and said that they would have the same studio, team and book club on their new show in October – albeit probably with far smaller audiences.
"I think celebrity has changed," Madeley added, saying that his wife hated being one. "Celebrity culture is a reality and celebrity has become currency in a way that it wasn't when we started. It carries a huge comet's tail of issues and short-term value."
Madeley, known for his gaffes – some of which he claims are invented – did not disappoint the audience yesterday.
When asked about the effects of discussing their intimate affairs on television, he explained: "We don't really talk about our sex life. It is clearly a joke."