This isn’t a proper review of TFI Friday since I must admit that I dipped out a few times during near two hour run-time of last night’s show – and it over-ran massively last night, even becoming a joke in the show.
TFI Friday was a terrific programme of its time. Because Chris Evans first became a Virgin Radio presenter and then its owner, early during its run, there was a large crossover of staff who would work on the show. The TFI team ended up in the basement of One Golden Square. In the Virgin Radio sales team, it was a regular thing to take clients out to lunch then down to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith where the show was recorded. They’d get to be in the bar. I even got to stand it the bar myself for one episode when the entire staff of Golden Square decamped to watch an episode recorded. I had a jacket which had both TFI Friday and Virgin Radio logos stitched into it.
I liked and admired many of the people involved in TFI.
So I should be a massive fan. But… well… I was curious about Friday night’s show. And yet…
TFI Friday was a product of its time, just as The Tube and The Word were before it. They caught the zeitgeist of their moments. They were live… well until TFI was pre-recorded as live. And they spoke to their generation.
Yes, this one-off edition of TFI crammed in lots of clips from old episodes – although they played a clip of bowling balls hitting mirrored wardrobes a few too many times. But it was a little shambolic. It could be argued that this was what the show was like anyway, but I’m not sure that’s true. When you get into the run of a series, you make things tighter and perhaps are willing to jettison ideas that might have at first seemed good on paper, but turned out not to be so.
In this instance it felt like anything that was thought up made the cut. And that just made the show baggy. By the time Evans was playing a game with Lewis Hamilton about how long the show might be allowed to overrun, it just felt tired. It really didn’t help that Hamilton was the big guest since he’s really not the most animated of guests at the best of times. And if you’re going to get the audience to ask questions, then at least prep them in advance.
Incidentally, the audience in the bar was way more distracting than it ever used to be. They really needed some floor managers up there shutting them up. I’m sure that tickets were really hot to get, but if you’re going to be an audience member of a show, please shut up.
The ratings, of course, were great. 3.7m in the overnights, giving Channel 4 a rare slot win. But I would say that there were two contributory factors. First BBC1 and ITV weren’t really playing the game. Have I Got News For You ended its run last week, so BBC1 had a repeat of New Tricks. Meanwhile ITV wasn’t really bothering either, with a repeat of Doc Martin. Arguably only Channel 5 was in the mix with a Big Brother live eviction. But nobody cares about that programme any longer – particularly the non-“celebrity” editions.
And yes, I believe that the show did well in the younger demos that Channel 4 so prizes from a sales perspective. But this really counted as event television. Frankly, if you were at home on Friday night, you might as well see what it was all about.
My fear is now that Channel 4 will look at those numbers and commission a new series. But they shouldn’t, even with a new host. And here’s why.
In the ad-breaks, we repeatedly got to see ads for a new TFI Friday compilation album, packed full of 90s music (not live performances from the show, as far as I can see). I really hate to say this, but in 2015, this is dad rock in 2015.
The TFI brand is fairly meaningless to a 20 year old today – something that was pretty clear from the various kids/babies that appeared on the show reprising their appearances from years before. Even with a new host, it would be akin to the BBC bringing back Jukebox Jury or The Old Grey Whistle Test with Reggie Yates. The only people who’d relish that thought would be the people outside the target market.
Then there are the presenters. Now we have find generation of presenters, and Chris Evans is clearly one of them. The clips showed him to be massively confident when TFI was in its heydey, and he still is.
But why are all our biggest, and arguably most “dangerous” TV presenters on Radio 2? Evans; Graham Norton; Dermot O’Leary; Paul O’Grady. And then there are ex-hosts like Alan Carr and Jonathan Ross. Kudos to Radio 2, but that can’t be right?
Channel 4 absolutely should be making a new show like this. But it needs to speak to today’s audience. So it needs a presenter who’s not about to turn 50 (in any case, Evans is now doing Top Gear). Look again at Evans’ confidence in those shows, or further back, Jonathan Ross’s confidence when he launched The Last Resort. Even the Network 7 crew.
They need someone new bursting with that kind of energy.
Channel 4 needs to discover people like that. And ideally not just someone from the conveyor-belt of stand-ups who appear everywhere all the time (Live From The Apollo, HIGNFY, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Mock the Week, QI…).
Even the idea of “anointing” Nick Grimshaw as his successor doesn’t seem sensible. I thought Grimmy didn’t do himself too many favours on the night, and he now seems to be aligned with The X-Factor.
In short then, this was fine as a retrospective, although it was flabby.
But Channel 4 needs new blood in a new format.