Written by TV

Ten O’Clock Live

This week’s Broadcast magazine has an article entitled “C4 leaps to defence of Ten O’Clock Live as ratings plummet.” The audience has fallen from what they probably thought was a disappointing 1.4m at launch to 691,000 last week. C4 point out that this increases significantly once repeats and playbacks are added. But to be honest, there are still plenty of things wrong with this series – a series I’d love to see succeed.
I’ve been watching it every week – although no longer live. I even met someone who does a bit of writing for it this week. I do want it to succeed as I say.
But here’s what needs changing:

  • First and foremost, it’s very badly scheduled. Now we’re going through a period of time when for those who care about what’s going on in the world (and that includes everyone likely to watch this programme), the news every night is simply unmissable. Since the start of the year, North Africa and the Middle East have featured nightly as events unfold in a dramatic fashion with the Air Force going into Libya. And last week there was the devastating earthquake that led to a tsunami in Japan. With an escalating nuclear story unfolding as well, the news is a crucial watch.
    Ten O’Clock Live is up against three of the four flagship news programmes, as well as Question Time where the rights and wrongs of the UN Resolution can be debated. It was always going to lose out.
  • Secondly, it’s too long. It feels like a half-hour programme – or at best a forty-five minute programme – stretched to an hour. Shortening the programme would tighten up things. We could lose one of the interview segements – most likely the round-table debate chaired by Mitchell, which thus far have been a little lacking. I really like Mitchell, but sometimes these debates have the air of a sixth form student debate – or even worse – Sunday morning’s “The Big Questions.”
    In a week when the news has been utterly dominated by Japan and Libya, neither of which are full of obvious gags, 10 O’Clock Live has to turn to Silvio Berlusconi for light relief, but that’s only marginally relevant. Cut the entire thing and concentrate on relevant stories.
  • Thirdly, it doesn’t need to be live. Indeed it shouldn’t be. Channel 4 says that the live nature of the programme allows them to react to things right up to deadline. But the programme simply isn’t in a position to do this. There’s no real journalists working on camera, and the shortcomings were brought into sharp focus in the most recent programme when the UN Resolution on the no-fly zone was passed during transmission. Lauren Lavergne struggled with the news coming through her earpiece, and only David Mitchell seemed truly aware what this might mean. (I should point out that Kirsty Wark on Newsnight hadn’t been exactly smooth in passing the news on, but she did have journalists to explain what it might mean in full detail).
    By recording the programme even a few hours earlier, they wouldn’t be flailing around trying to cover breaking stories. They’d be able to hone the material that they do have. And indeed, they’d be able to cut items that just weren’t working when they ran through them in studio.

As it turns out, the start of 2011 hasn’t been the easiest time to launch a comedy news programme, since the news night after night is unmissable, and there isn’t a great deal of humour to be had from tens of thousands dying in Japan, or Colonel Gadaffi bombing his own people.
Jon Stewart and The Daily Show team have the same issues. Sometimes they just ignore the big horror – perhaps even saying that there’s nothing they can add to the matter. And sometimes, they almost forget the fact that they’re broadcast by “Comedy” Central and just run at the story anyway. It’s a balancing act, and one that takes time to master.
But I think those three “small” changes I’ve mentioned would help put the programme on an even keel. It might have to change its name completely, but unless someone at C4 has ordered 500,000 mousemats with the logo on it or something, that’s not impossible.
And no, I didn’t make it through a piece on 10 O’Clock Live without mentioning The Daily Show. Damn. (Come on: somebody wants to broadcast this in the UK? Surely?!)