Say it with `quotation' marks

The week on television
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Post-modernism's latest grand project is the rehabilitation of Terry Wogan, who made his first tentative steps up the ladder of ironic self-reinvention by agreeing to share his pet hates on this week's Room 101 (BBC 2, Fri). Most of the things he claimed to fear and loathe were home bankers - EastEnders, Cantona - but Have I Got News For You was a more astutely media-literate bit of devil's advocacy. Being a BBC 2 stablemate of Room 101, its nomination looked to anyone not versed in the rules of irony to be a straight case of fratricide. Not a bit of it: this is precisely the kind of reflexivity, of allusive trickery, that makes people high up in BBC 2 do cartwheels in celebration of their own cultural slipperiness.

It wouldn't have needed explaining to Wogan that Have I's presenter Angus Deayton is best mates with Room 101 presenter Nick Hancock, nor that when Deayton was on Room 101 he said he hated Radio 2, on which Wogan is himself a star presenter. (Deayton also nominated the clever-clever BBC 2 logo, but then no one on broadcasting works harder at his irony.) It gets worse. To illustrate Have I Got News For You, Hancock chose clips not only from the two occasions when he happened to be a guest on the programme but also when he told exactly the same joke. Ever get the feeling BBC 2 has gone potholing up its own grotto? If so, blame Michael Jackson, who is now at Channel 4 after a spell pretending to be a populist at BBC 1. The channel that looks most like his baby is still BBC 2, with its single eyebrow permanently raised in the wry fashion of the person who knows that someone else in the room has farted but he's not going to make a big stink about it. There surely won't be long to wait before someone goes on Room 101 and tells Hancock that the thing they hate most in the world is Room 101. In an ironic world of perfect circularity the guest who does so would be Jackson himself. But ironically, unlike his namesake, he isn't famous enough.

Jackson's influence hasn't really been felt yet in his new job, but A Date With... (C4, Sun) feels like the kind of thing he might have commissioned. It uses the grammar of the game show to deliver a homily about the ways in which disabled people fail to get a fair deal. There were three contestants, neatly fanned out across the various disabilities - one blind, one lame, and one with a stammer. They had plainly been selected because of looks and confidence and the likelihood that they would embody an affirmative message. The irony of the show, presumably unintentional - although you can never tell these days - is that the programme's chief handicap came in the form of its able-bodied presenter Tony Slattery. Slattery has been in professional freefall for a couple of years now, and the only job he's fit for is sending himself up. Here his brief was to pretend to be offensive, to illustrate what the disabled contestants have to put up with when they're not on television. It was all just a thin line away from his more usual speciality, which is to do away with the pretence.

One of the few irony-free zones on BBC 2 is Newsnight (BBC 2, weekdays). On Monday there was an item on the doctoring of the Di 'n' Dodi pics. It's interesting to note that the Princess of Wales is now unblinkingly referred to as "Di" on a programme that is thought to be a last bastion of seriousness. Piers Morgan, the editor of The Mirror who published the doctored photographs, was sufficiently persuaded of the programme's po- face to pull out of the interview two hours before transmission. It can only be a matter of time before, just as Have I Got News For You put a tub of lard in the place where the serial withdrawer Roy Hattersley should have been sitting, Newsnight uses similar tactics to announce the chickening out of its guests. In Morgan's case, a white feather in a cup of slime would have done the trick.

Edinburgh Nights (BBC 2, Mon) has also succumbed to the ironic minesweepers defusing the pockets of seriousness dotted around the channel's schedule. Hitherto a capable arts programme, it now has the ubiquitous Mark Lamarr presenting what looks like late-night competition for Not The Jack Docherty Show (C5, weekdays). After a bongo band had done their worst, Lamarr assured us that "it's much better when the audience clap in time". Apparently said without irony.

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