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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Is this the kind of TV you *meant* to make?

Earlier this week, while waiting for the Ashes highlights to come on ITV, I found myself flipping between two of the most touted new TV programmes of recent months. The first, "Come Fly With Me", was David Walliams's and Matt Lucas's attempt to take their "Little Britain" franchise into a new era, with a show based on those fly on the wall series set in busy international airports. The other, "Famous & Fearless", was Chris Evans's attempt to marry "The Late Late Breakfast Show" with "Sporting Superstars".

Both programmes were very big productions which must have cost a lot of money. All TV programmes are very big risks. These must have been bigger risks than most. I assume they can't have realised what disasters they both were until it was too late. It can't have been until they'd devoted months to writing, shooting and stitching together all those tiny character vignettes featuring Walliams and Lucas as stewards, immigration officers and pilots that somebody at the BBC realised that what they'd commissioned was, like lots of TV comedy, sharp, well-observed, edgy and NOT REMOTELY FUNNY. I didn't take particular exception to the stereotyping. Comedy's built on stereotyping. What I do take exception to is things not being funny. Funny's easy to recognise. It makes you laugh.

The obvious response to "Famous and Fearless" was that it featured people who didn't clearly belong under the first adjective doing things that didn't automatically entitle them to be described as the second. I saw Dame Kelly Holmes competing with three women I didn't recognise - and I'm not the least clued-up member of the audience. I bet the commissioners had to be introduced to them. I guarantee that if the people commissioning it had been told that the most famous people they were going to get were Richard Branson's son and a member of Atomic Kitten they would have snapped their cheque book shut, the programme would have gone in the Monkey Tennis file and everybody's reputation would have remained unstained.

Instead they presumably had to see it through. By then they'd spent so much money and executive credibility that there was simply no going back.