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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Richard and Judy: we're apathetic as hell and we're not going to take it any more

A few years ago I was rung up by a researcher for Richard and Judy's afternoon show on Channel 4. Would I come on and talk about Live Aid? I said I was busy at the time. They kept ringing me. Eventually they offered payment and a car to take me back and forth. You can always tell a programme's budget by the cars they send. If they're driven by a middle-aged man in a suit, the interior smells of air freshener and today's papers are in the back, there's money involved.

Never having watched Richard and Judy I didn't know how they did things and when I got there I was surprised to find I was one of three people who had been brought in to contribute to an item that was five minutes long at the very most. In the ensuing discussion I managed to get away one sentence and I'm not generally crippled by shyness. Even in that brief exposure it was clear that the show was its own reality. Guests, who tended to be served in batches of three, were there to bolster the main point of the programme, which was looking at Richard and Judy. The outside world existed largely to give them something to raise their eyebrows at. Afterwards I was given a "goodie bag", containing, among other things, an autographed picture of the golden couple. It was like spending an hour on a planet whose hierarchy was completely unfamiliar and yet rigorously observed by the natives.

Six months ago they left Channel 4 and took their programme to digital channel Watch. Noting the weakening of the old channels they obviously felt that the new digital landscape would afford them opportunities to make some serious money as performer/producer/rights owners. It wasn't as easy as they thought. Yesterday they ran up the white flag and tore up the contract six months early, noting that their old audience had found it difficult to follow them to a small channel. In TV circles they gleefully point to one show which only managed 11,000 viewers.

Maybe this proves that while TV fame may spread very wide it doesn't go all that deep. It could also encourage the networks to face down some of their more demanding talent. If these people want to take their talent out into the marketplace and deal direct with the public they may find that they're nothing like as bankable as they imagine. And if they have to go back it will be on much reduced terms.