Sunday, 27 October 2013


Sunday, 27 October 2013
left-to-right: Norton, Ross & Carr; brothers-in-chat

British chat shows don't elicit much discussion online, where the genre is dominated by US late-night talk shows. That's a shame, because US talk shows are almost interchangeable and their formats haven't changed much since the 1970s, while UK chat shows tend to experiment more. I also find them more enjoyable because they're (a) less scripted (no "pre-interviews"), (b) ply guests with booze, (c) don't drag on all year, and (d) the guests are allowed to swear (which tends to please Americans in particular).

Right now, the 'Big Three' chat shows are on-air trying to entice viewers their way. We have BBC1's flagship The Graham Norton Show and Channel 4's Alan Carr: Chatty Man in direct competition every Friday, with former-BBC golden boy Jonathan Ross now on ITV trying to grow an audience in a tougher Saturday timeslot. (Agents of movie stars are less keen on Saturdays, because they prefer a Friday slot to market their client's film at the start of the box-office weekend). Anyway, below is a quick account of this weekend's chat shows and how they fared:

Alan Carr - Chatty Man
Series 11, Episode 9. Guests: Amanda Holden, Karl Pilkington, Michael Sheen, Jared Leto & Icona Pop (music)

Chatty Man has definitely improved in recent years, but it still feels like the cheaper of the three shows. It can also be the cheeriest, thanks to Alan Carr's brand of humour. I think the issue with Chatty Man is that Carr's a love-hate personality, so there's less middle-ground for casual viewers. If he's interviewing someone you're interested to hear from, chances are he will dominate the conversation and swamp the chat with so much innuendo it can be exhausting and unproductive. Quite a few guests are basically just there to prompt Carr's jokes, too, which tends to happen when stand-ups become chat show hosts. However, his blasé attitude can also be quite fun and occasionally draws out some candid discussions.

This week's guests were all pretty dull, alas. Amanda Holden has built a career on being associated with Simon Cowell through Britain's Got Talent, and has little of interest to add beyond that. She has an autobiography out that's not selling well, so here she was plugging that and giving the usual sound-bites about Cowell and still squeezing mileage out of a failed marriage to cheesy entertainer Les Dennis. Holden's so fame-hungry it hurts (she started out as a Blind Date contestant), but I have to admit she enters into the spirit of conversation and wasn't a total bore. ★½

Next up was Karl Pilkington, who's been cut from Ricky Gervais' apron strings and is now doing his own PR. Bless. Karl has a new Sky show called The Moaning of Life to publicise in his typically spiritless way, but his appearance here only proved he's not very funny without careful editing or a bigger personality steering his bonkers musings down the most entertaining avenues. He's not overexposed on the chat show circuit, however, so it was at least fun to see him being lightly grilled by Carr—who mostly spent the interview feigning mock astonishment at Karl's odd points of view. ★★

Michael Sheen was next, for a surprisingly brief interview. This touched on his new show Masters of Sex, which Channel 4 obviously want to promote on its flagship chat show. There's nothing wrong with that, and the show's sexual nature obviously greased a few gags (pun intended)—as Chatty Man's always been driven by tongue-in-cheek quips about sex. A glass vibrator was a comedy goldmine for cackling Carr. Naturally, Sheen's Welsh nationality entered the conversation, because that's the law of these things, and then he was gone. He never even explained the owl-like facial hair. ★★

Finally, there was actor-singer Jared Leto, who wasn't much of a climactic presence. He came across well and clearly enjoyed being on the show (responding well to Carr's sense of humour), but this was a pretty bland interview that just promoted Leto's new album with Thirty Seconds to Mars. It doesn't help that I have no feelings towards Leto, although I'd personally ask him about Fight Club and Requiem for a Dream over anything else. ★½

The show was rounded off with an effervescent performance from Swedish electro house duo Icona Pop, which certainly would have appealed to the show's gay following with its many bare-chested men. ★★★

The Graham Norton Show
Series 14, Episode 3. Guests: Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jennifer Saunders & Cher (music)

The best chat show around right now is The Graham Norton Show, because the formula is perfect. Guests are usually a little tipsy when they arrive on the sofa, so conversation tends to flow a little easier and lips are loosened. But the master-stroke has been bringing the guests out together, because it promotes an unusual group dynamic and you tend to find shy or dull guests are happier when they're sharing the spotlight. There are times when the mix of guests just doesn't work and the thing falls oddly flat, but when it works it's a blast.

This week, I though it was a disappointing hour. Robert De Niro is thought of as a difficult guest in the same way Harrison Ford is (who came out of his shell a little last week), but De Niro never really looked comfortable. I think it was partly because he wasn't drinking the cucumber martini someone had made him backstage. And did you see his stony face during that funny #clitfest Twitter joke? Ouch. I don't think Norton or the show's style was to his taste, although he liked being jokingly referred to as "Sir Bob". Ego massages go down well. ★½

But the biggest disappointment (of the entire chatting weekend) was Michelle Pfeiffer. I love Michelle Pfeiffer. I had a crush on her when I was 13, and she was earning money pouring herself into black leather catsuits, but she was a let-down here. I can barely remember anything she even said, and the most memorable part of her input was knowing she'd appeared in a movie with Graham Norton (2007's I Could Never Be Your Woman). It was a pity, but Pfeiffer was a bit of a buzz-kill. One got the impression she's quite reserved, too. ★

Jennifer Saunders had the role of "the comedian" that Graham Norton likes to throw into the mix, and I thought she did rather well. I'm not a huge fan of hers, but she was refreshingly honest about the disastrous Spice Girls musical she wrote, and her story about momentarily losing her baby at home was well-told. The anecdote about a porn star sharing her name was also fun, as was watching her grimace through watching Cher watch a Cher parody she'd made in an old sketch show. ★★½

Cher was one of those 'late arrival' guests the show's had for awhile now, which are rather odd. I'm not sure when they film Graham Norton's show, but for some reason a few guests are incapable of staying for the entire recording session—so they either arrive halfway through, or sometimes leave early. Cher was one such person, but she somehow managed to perk up proceedings with her mere presence, despite being characteristically stoical (or maybe that's just a by-product of all the cosmetic surgery?) Thankfully, Cher seemed to almost replace Pfeiffer on the sofa, which is what the show needed by this point. It was also surprisingly delightful to realise she's aware of French & Saunders and, perhaps even odder, Father Ted. I never took her for an Anglophile! She also sang LIVE, which is always a bonus, and I must admit she doesn't look 67 years old. One can poke fun at people who have too many nips and tucks, but she does look like someone in their mid-40s. A weird person, but still. ★★½

The Jonathan Ross Show
Series 5, Episode 3. Guests: Nicole Scherzinger, Gary Barlow, Louis Walsh, Naomi Campbell, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Boe & Laura Mvula (music)

I have sympathy for Jonathan Ross, whose once-excellent BBC chat show wilted on the vine and was finally put out of its misery when 'Sachsgate' ended his BBC career. His move to ITV promised a rebirth, and to be honest I prefer the new format he's adopted (which now includes physical activities for guests to participate in), but he's being crippled by the timeslot. As I briefly mentioned above, Saturday doesn't attract as many big names as a Friday night. My guess is the occasional big-name guests he gets on are drawn to him because of a personal connection, or professional loyalty because he's been a key chat show figurehead of the past few decades in the UK. He's David Letterman to Graham Norton's Jay Leno, sort of. That perhaps explains Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock appearing in week 1 to launch the show in fine style...

However, now it's week 3, so we have X Factor judges Gary Barlow, Louis Walsh and Nicole Scherzinger. They're a boring trio who've been interviewed so often, particularly about X Factor, that you can almost predict everything they'll say. It was no surprise their chat with Ross was flavourless, and only really existed to market X Factor to the 2% of ITV viewers unaware it's on telly. The clip of a young Louis on Irish TV was funny, though. ★½

Things appeared to get worse with tenor Alfie Boe, whom I have no interest in whatsoever. He felt like a good guest for a daytime chat show, so goodness knows why someone thought he was a great booking here. Are they chasing mums and grandmothers now? To be fair, Boe came across well and seems like a very nice man, even if much of the interview was simply Ross asking him to sing snippets from musicals. ★½

Stephen Merchant was next on the sofa, promoting his new Sky Atlantic comedy Hello Ladies. I quite like Merchant, even if he only ever chats about three things: The Office, Ricky Gervais, and his backfiring love life. Still, his testing of chat-up lines on Scherzinger and Naomi Campbell in the greenroom was amusing. "Legs is the word of the day; so let's go back to my place and spread the word." ★★

The headlining star was catwalk queen Naomi Campbell, who's never interested me in the slightest. She was promoting a new reality show called The Face that she's a judge on, but I was pleased the interview went in a more interesting direction—touching on her much-publicised "anger management" issues and difficulty meeting men because she's perceived as an ice maiden. Campbell was guarded and quick to reign Ross in whenever he touched on a nerve, but she came across as quite a fun, confident, eccentric individual. It was good to see Ross tangle with a tricky interviewee, actually. It felt like a 'battle' worth watching, even if he ultimately wasn't successful in eliciting a big insight or surprise. ★★½