Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Great Balls of Fire

If there's one thing the TV schedules have been lacking in recent years, it's live coverage of men having their private parts attacked with a soldering iron. It's something I've written to 'Points of View' about many times. But no more. ITV's flagship daytime show, 'This Morning', which has clearly learnt nothing from its live Viagra trials, today brought us up close and personal with the world of the live vasectomy. It's a bit of a dream come true.

Sandwiched between a woman with extreme maggot phobia, and a competition to win free food for a year, we were introduced to John Klapwijq, not only a brave and stupid man, but also one hell of a score in Scrabble. John and his wife Lisa have one child together, and have decided against having more on the grounds that "they believe it is too expensive to bring up a child in London" and their daughter's school fees alone cost £6,000 a year. The idea of moving house or, heaven forbid, trying the local comprehensive clearly didn't appeal, so there was no other alternative - John would have to have the snip.

Fortunately he'd hired one of the best in the business - Dr Tim Black, the Chief Executive of Marie Stopes, who refers to anaesthetic as "jungle juice" and favours the use of "vocal local", a cutting edge technique which basically involves chatting to the patient about last night's football, and hoping it'll distract him from the fact that you're carving up his scrotum.

Having interviewed both men via satellite link, Phillip Schofield promptly leapt onto the back of a motorbike and sped off to the clinic, leaving Dr Chris Steel to talk Fern Britten through a picture of a penis, before moving on to an interview with Frazier's dad, John Mahoney. The man's had a long and distinguished acting career, but I'd guess it's the first time he's ever appeared as the warm up act for a vasectomy.

The showbiz slot done, Fern crossed live to the clinic with the words "let's put John out of his agony", an ironic statement, considering that the pain was only just about to begin. Fortunately for John though, he'd been provided with a set of headphones which, we were told, played him constant soothing music. Although somehow he still managed to hear every word Phil and the doc said to him. I'd suggest turning up the volume next time.

A quick jab in the testicles, and they were off (not the testicles). Having emphasised how painless the procedure is, Dr Tim started hacking about in John's nether regions, inducing a good seven or eight agonising cries of pain from his patient. He ended up giving him three times the normal amount of anaesthetic and blaming it on the lack of vocal local, before accusing John of making it all up. The above photo of the operation, as supplied by the 'This Morning' website, suggests it was a very professional job, attended by numerous medical professionals and employing the very latest surgical equipment. Unfortunately the picture in question is of an entirely different operation, and bears very little resemblence to the real thing, which basically involved Tim in an open necked shirt and no face-mask, prodding away at a man's testicles with some welding tools.

But it was all over in a matter of minutes, after which John cheerfully lied through his teeth and claimed "it wasn't painful". Maybe not for him. Personally I watched the whole thing framed by my fingers, which were permanently attached to my face in abject horror. I've never felt so ill.

At the start of the show, Fern declared that "8 out of 10 men wouldn't even consider having a vasectomy". This should've taken care of the two who would.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ted Wragg to a Bull

It's always good to mess with the minds of children in the name of reality TV, so I was particularly pleased to see the launch of 'The Unteachables' tonight on Channel 4, which began with the following mission statement from 'educational guru' Ted Wragg: "Here's the challenge: can you take people who appear on the surface to be unteachable, and turn them into good citizens?" Well, Ted probably couldn't, but fortunately he knows a man who can.

The show selected sixteen teenagers (fifteen of whom probably have ASBOs, and a couple of them children, but I'm guessing there) from three normal secondary schools, and sent them off to Suffolk, which for many people would seem like punishment enough. These kids however, were forced to endure even tougher hardships by being made to live in a barn, and make friends with Phil Beadle, the 2004 'Teacher of the Year' (which sounds like a Channel Five reality show, and probably will be within the year).

The teenagers included such well-mannered delights as 13-year-old Grace, who chatted to the camera in her 'Me. Me. Me.' t-shirt, before addressing her teacher with the words "Miss, I can't be bothered. Fuck off". In her defence, she did state that "I don't want to be bad... but I can't just sit in a lesson and just do loads of maths". Well not if it's a geography lesson, no. She does however admit that the thought of anger management classes makes her angry.

Then there was Dale, whose reputation preceded him, and who had clearly been subject to some unfair victimisation. He told us "Every time a window gets smashed, a stone or snowball gets thrown, or anything like that, they bring me into the office straightaway and just assume it's me". He was then asked "And has it usually been you?", a question to which he gave careful consideration, before replying "Yeah".

KirstyAmongst the others were little darlings such as Zaak, a bright boy who's clearly benefitted from his parents' flair for spelling, and Kirsty, whose acne has to be seen to be believed. I'm not saying Kirsty's a well-built girl, but she wouldn't look out of place squaring up to a matador.

Upon arrival at the remote East Anglian farmstead, the group gave their considered opinion on their new home, one declaring "this is quite good", another going with a simple "oh fuck". But they were soon making themselves at home breaking windows, spraying the barn with lighter fuel, and staying up most of the night.

The next morning, superteacher Phil set them on an intensive course of "dickhead pointing", vertebrae stretching, and orange squeezing, before taking them on a run through a field miming punctuation as they went.

Oddly enough, it seemed to work. Kirsty, who'd previously been content to wander off like the Blue Peter elephant, declared the experience to be "well good", before adding that Phil's teaching methods were also... um... "well good". Well ok, so it hasn't improved her vocabulary, but at least it got her out of McDonalds for a couple of days.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Mint Tits

'Club Reps', which began on ITV in January 2002, was of course a reality show about holiday reps. It may have been successful enough to spawn a second and third series, and boost bookings of Club 18-30 holidays by almost 100% (ironically), but it was lacking in one all-too-crucial department: B-list celebrities. Fortunately though, this glaring omission has now been addressed by Five, who last night launched 'Trust Me - I'm a Holiday Rep'. Which is surely a bit of an oxymoron.

The show takes six celebrities (well, five celebrities and Jasmine Lennard) to Ayia Napa and sets them to work for ten days as reps for Olympic Holidays. According to recent press reports, the celebs in question were to include Big Brother winner Nadia Almada, but strangely she (or, if you're old fashioned, he) wasn't amongst the six z-listers who turned up at Stansted for the economy flight to Cyprus. We did, however, have the pleasure of meeting Scott Wright, a former Rear of the Year and Coronation Street reject; Nina Myskow, who used to be the lowest of the low - a TV critic; Syd Little (yes, he's still alive), and Jodie Marsh. I can just picture the producer saying "Yes, we've got Jodie! Now pick up the phone and get me Jordan!" He must have been over the moon when he heard they'd succeeded. It's just a shame the girl in the office misunderstood, and booked the lead singer of New Kids on the Block. But you can't have everything. And the fact is that Jordan Knight's got a new album out. Though I'm sure that's just coincidence.

Bringing up the rear was Jasmine Lennard, who apparently "shot to fame" on Five's 'Make Me a Supermodel'. Nina Myskow spoke for the nation when she commented "I hadn't a clue who she was". It would become something of a recurring theme as the show went on.

Having arrived in Cyprus and settled into their luxury villa, the group were awoken early next morning and set to work... um... repping. As presenter Toby Anstis said, or rather shouted over the din of the local nightlife (whoever came up with the idea of filming the links outside a club at 10pm should be shot), "It's a far cry from their glamorous lives back home". Glamorous? Syd Little??

Nonetheless, they were given their uniforms and accessories, which prompted an immediate outcry from three members of the team - Jodie and Jasmine refusing to wear the clothes, and Scott announcing "I'm not being seen with that phone". I hope he was being ironic, but frankly I wouldn't put money on it.

Fortunately the wardrobe problem was soon solved with a pair of scissors, and having hacked their uniforms to pieces, Jodie and Jasmine (I can sense a double-act coming on here) arrived downstairs looking like a couple of prostitutes. Mission accomplished. Nina tactfully pointed out to them that "it's not all just young guys and men. There are women, there are kids", prompting the response from Jodie "I love kids". I'm not sure she quite understood the point there.

But before long the group were being introduced to Head Rep, Julie Moss, who greeted them with the words "Welcome to the Olympic team" - coincidentally, the very words spoken to Eddie the Eagle in 1988, and said with about as much sincerity. Julie outlined the rules on smoking, drinking and tattoos, before retrieving the girls' shoes from the patch of waste ground where they'd dumped them, and telling Jodie to cross her legs and sit in a more respectable manner. Jasmine offered the considered opinion that Ms Moss "needs to get laid", while Jodie protested that "I wasn't showing anyone my knickers". Which proves there's a first time for everything.

Having been told to cover up her tattoos with bandages, Jodie set off for work looking like she'd been in a car crash, and the trainee reps arrived for a meet-and-greet with the holidaymakers. It went well. One by one, each rep stood up and introduced themselves - Nina mentioning her career in broadcasting, Jordan talking about music, and Scott announcing "I'm going to get you all absolutely pissed out of your heads". Which went down well with the young children in the audience.

A short reprimand later, and the six were introduced to their repping partners. Each was paired with an experienced Olympic rep, the star of the show for me being Ashley, who earned huge amounts of respect from yours truly for not only representing the holidaymakers, but also the British public as a whole, by starting her working relationship with Jasmine with the words "I don't mean to be rude, but who are you?"

Meanwhile Scott, who still seemed to think he was on an 18-30 holiday, earned slightly less respect by introducing himself to one of the customers with the greeting "with tits like that, I'm definitely going to be on your pub crawl". Not straight out of the manual, that one.

Introductions over, it was down to work, which basically involved handing out orange juice, and wandering aimlessly amongst the sun loungers. Jordan was treated to an hour long lecture on rep protocol in a monotone voice, which was sweet revenge for all that NKOTB music, while Jasmine was continuing to bond with Ashley, who cheerfully told her "You can't be that much of a good model, coz I've never heard of you". Honestly, I could marry that girl. Jasmine responded with a self-effacing and eternally modest "You truly, Ashley, are ignorant if you don't know who I am", before adding "If nobody's heard of me, explain to me why I've been in six different magazines in the last two weeks and have a fifteen thousand pound car sitting outside my house".

A fifteen thousand pound car? I bet Kate Moss can only dream of riches like that.

But all's well that ends well, and at the close of the working day, the group returned to their villa to compare notes. Jodie described it as dire, Jordan was confused, and Nina exhausted, while Scott merely declared "I've seen some mint tits".

Although of course he wouldn't know if they were mint unless he'd sucked them. Which is probably against Olympic rules.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Angela's Hashes

Very occasionally a show will go completely under my radar, and despite scouring the pages of TV Choice on a daily basis, I'll somehow fail to spot a complete gem of a programme. So it is with 'A Week of Dressing Dangerously', which apparently has been running on BBC2 on Wednesday evenings for the past four weeks without once catching my eye. I finally caught up with it last night however, and may I say I was not disappointed. Although if Chris Morris isn't behind this one, I'll eat my hat. Which, on this programme, would be a gay stetson.

The show features fashion journalist Angela Buttolph (a made-up name if ever I heard one), who believes that "by changing the way you dress, people will see you differently". Which is true. Unfortunately Angela seems to want people to see you as gay, which I'm not sure is the difference most of us would aspire to. Angela's victim on last night's show was Jason Staines (another comedy name), a software administrator from Surrey who is apparently introverted and lacking in self-confidence. So much so, that he applied to go on a national TV show.

Every day for five days, Jason has to agree to wear an outfit chosen by Angela. He has to wear it all day, and continue to go about his daily life. Which sounds fair enough. Unfortunately Angela Buttolph is no Trinny & Susannah. Having measured up the unsuspecting Jason, she hit the shops with the words "I'm off to find a week's worth of clothes that will really push Jason's personality in totally new directions". Or if not his personality, his sexuality. Suffice it to say, she's not shopping in any store I've ever been in.

Day One's outfit was the fetching little number on the right. Lilac checked jacket, matching plus fours, and a purple satin shirt. Jason had to attend his I.T. company's office looking, as one friend pointed out, like "a camp golfer". I'm sure it did him the power of good. A female colleague commented that "the outfit definitely suits him", which seemed about as big an insult as you can get, but hey that was only day one - things would get a lot worse than that.

Day Two was what Angela called "Rudolph Valentino, exotic, mysterious and romantic", and featured a cape, an Arabian headdress and an open shirt. As Angela said, "Who would know that you were from Surrey, and not some distant exotic land?". Well, anyone who saw the false moustache really. But despite an encouraging comment from best friend Stuart - "You don't normally wear that much make-up" - Jason set off on a blind date with a girl called Rachel, who hadn't been told of his week of dressing dangerously, and frankly did well not to bolt at the first sign of his knee-high boots.

But it was quite a romantic moment nonetheless. Jason's first words: "I've been in this all day". Rachel's response: "How embarrassing". The conclusion: "I think it's developed my ability to approach people". Yes, but it hasn't stopped them running away.

Onto Day Three, and the cowboy outfit. In Angela's words, "How macho is that?". Answer: not very. Especially the way Jason minced down the road with his thumbs in his belt loops. By now he'd clearly been brainwashed however, and despite looking like a reject from a Village People tribute act, he declared "I think it's quite a masculine outfit". A view shared by most of the gay community, I'm sure.

The week hit an all-time high on Day Four, when Angela dressed Jason as a 'player', complete with cane, full-length white fur coat and accompanying bling. He looked like a cross between Gary Numan and a polar bear. Having test driven a car, and walked through town looking like a gay pimp, he phoned Rachel (you could hear the panic in her voice when he told her who it was) and verbally bludgeoned the girl until she agreed to meet him again. To be honest I was surprised he was still interested in women. The man could not have been more camp.

Well not until Day Five anyway. The week reached its climax with the Marc Bolan look (which is an insult to Marc Bolan). Angela dressed Jason in platform shoes, blonde wig and a white catsuit, adding "You've got to have balls to wear this". And we could certainly see them as he strode towards the camera. But he strutted through Surrey like a drag queen, only more effeminate, before seranading Rachel from the top of a bridge, and talking about how nice his bum looks. He then stroked his wig and announced that "this week we have explored parts of me that don't often get to see the light of day", before using words like "liberating", "sensual" and "dominant".

Something tells me Jason's clothes weren't the only thing to have come out of the closet this week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Fuel Crisis

'Britain's Worst Celebrity Driver Live', which began on Sunday and continued last night, is, according to Five, "the first reality show to take its contestants out of a controlled environment and onto the roads of Britain". It's about time. I could name a hundred reality TV stars I'd like to see dumped on a busy road at rush hour. I just wish someone had thought of this before.

But putting aside my desire to see Maxwell & Saskia under the wheels of a juggernaut, I watched the first two editions of 'BWCDL' (I do like a nice acronym) with interest. The programme makers have expanded the format from the first series, and in addition to chucking eggs at celebrities while they do a 3-point turn, this time around they're also forcing them to drive from John O'Groats to Lands End. Because after all, what better time to embark on a thousand mile journey than when petrol has just hit a pound a litre.

The six celebs (more AA-list than A-list) consist of Radio 1 DJ Joel, former love-rat-lover Suzanne Shaw, Bad Girl Antonia Okonma, TV legend John Noakes, unemployed yank Erik Estrada, and lovable lunatic Brian Blessed. Suzanne's first question on day one was "What's a T-junction?", while Brian's daughter Rosalind summed up her father with the words "He has a very small ability to live in the real world". Neither sound like the kind of people who should be out alone in public, but hey, that's reality TV for you.

Having arrived in John O'Groats, the six were given a vehicle each, ranging from a Cadillac to a clapped-out mobile home, and they all set off for Inverness. John Noakes, who was accompanied on the drive by Peter Purves (Valerie Singleton clearly had more sense), has apparently never had a lesson in his life (the words "and it shows" spring to mind). He enjoys coasting downhill in neutral with his hands off the wheel, making it a wonder Shep survived as long as he did.

Suzanne, who was driving a London taxi, but without any knowledge whatsoever, chose to pick up every hitchhiker she could find, while Brian spent the journey singing 'Flower of Scotland', before arriving at a kilt shop and treating us all to the kind of Scottish accent that makes Mel Gibson look convincing. Frankly it sounded more like Johnny Depp in 'Pirates of the Caribbean'.

But hey, at least Brian knew where they were. Quentin Willson, presenting live in the studio, welcomed us back to the Science Centre in Glasgow after the first commercial break with the words "Welcome back to Britain's Worst Celebrity Driver, live from Newcastle". Bit of a navigation problem there.

Joel ParkingBut having covered the first 270 miles of their journey, the celebs were set the everyday task of reverse parallel-parking up a hill behind a tractor in an artificial rainstorm. I can't tell you how many times I've attempted that manouevre. First up was Joel, accompanied by his friend JK (whose surname is probably Rowling) in a white BMW. I'm not saying his attempt was a complete disaster, but he did melt the starter motor, barbecue the clutch, and basically write off a thirty grand car. Frankly it's a good job they were being sprayed with water, otherwise he'd have burst into flames.

Brian was better, as was John, while Suzanne ruined the replacement Audi, Antonia was put off by the smoke billowing from her engine, and Erik slammed his car into the tractor. I'd suggest valet parking in future.

The group were judged in the studio by former rally champion Penny Mallory, and psychiatrist Dr Gareth Smith, who knows a lot about driving. Well, driving people nuts. Penny gave her expert opinion, Brian gave his - "She's talking crap" - before co-host Jenni Falconer attempted to build up the suspense regarding the location of Thursday's show.

It was finally announced (after a dramatic pause) by Quentin, with the words "I can now reveal that the next destination will be... Newcastle".

I didn't see that one coming.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Second Opinion

I love TV awards which are voted for by the British public. It gives the nation a chance to prove just how little taste we have. Take tonight's three and a quarter hour marathon, 'ITV's 50 Greatest Shows', counting down the fifty finest programmes ever broadcast by the channel over the past half a century.

Inevitably 'Coronation Street' emerged victorious, but which classic of broadcasting history came second? Was it 'Brideshead Revisited'? 'Rising Damp'? 'World in Action'?

No, 'Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'. It's apparently the second greatest television programme ITV have ever made.

I'm just shocked there was no place for 'The Shane Richie Experience'.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Getting Shirty

I was planning to write a piece here about 'Hotel On Sea', BBC1's new docu-soap about the day-to-day running of the President hotel in Blackpool. Unfortunately, on top of being surprisingly dull, it would appear to have less to do with reality than... well, your average reality show.

Last night's opening episode told the story of a day in the life of the hotel staff, and went roughly along these lines:

1. Duty Manager Steph, a man who prefers to wear a wig and call himself Stephanie Sparkles, is seen preparing for a visit from Mrs Walsh, the hotel owner, who makes Margaret Thatcher look sane and soft-hearted, and who shares her life with a rat-like dog called Biggles, who should have been shot at birth.

2. Mrs Walsh arrives and Steph shows her around, avoiding room 199 (in the 65-room hotel), the ceiling of which has collapsed in the night.

3. A staff meeting is called, where Mrs Walsh patronises her employees and generally treats them like five year olds with learning difficulties.

4. They all get back to work.

5. Mrs Walsh prepares to leave. The narration (by Martin Jarvis, king of the disembodied voice) tells us that "before she leaves, Mrs Walsh has one last criticism to make..."

6. She calls in Steph, and forces him to remove his dreadful blue checked shirt in exchange for a pristine white one. After which she goes home, safe in the knowledge that she's successfully alienated everyone she's encountered for another day.

Marvellous. There's only one problem: in scenes 2 and 4, Steph was indeed wearing the hideous checked shirt which Mrs Walsh considered such an affront to humanity. Unfortunately in scenes 1 and 3 he was wearing the white one.

I particularly enjoyed the opening scene where Steph told the camera about his boss's impending visit with the words "Mrs Walsh is coming in to have a meeting with us. I haven't a clue what it's about", whilst simultaneously wearing the white shirt he would be told to change into three hours later. Something tells me he wasn't being a hundred per cent honest there.

I don't expect my reality shows to be real, but do they really have to make it this obvious?

UPDATE: 14-9-05

I e-mailed the BBC, pointing out the wardrobe problems in 'Hotel On Sea', and I've just received this response:

Dear Phil

Thank you for your e-mail regarding 'Hotel on Sea'.

I am pleased to read of your interest in this programme. I understand you want to find out if the programme is a real documentary. It is a new genre called 'comi-doc' which is documentary with elements of comedy in it. The series contains real people and a real hotel: it is a documentary which was filmed over one year. Sometimes the directors accentuate the comedy element of the characters.

I hope this clarifies the matter for you and thank you again for contacting the BBC.


Clare Mahon
BBC Information

So there you go. Forget reality TV, fly-on-the-wall shows, docu-soaps, social experiments, and of course three-part observational documentary series, we have a totally new genre here: the comi-doc. I'm glad they told me it's supposed to be funny. You'd never guess from watching the actual programme.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Like a Virgin

It's not uncommon these days for the makers of reality TV shows to claim that their programmes are 'social experiments'. I always love those. They're usually the most vacuous. But with 'No Sex Please, We're Teenagers', which began last night on BBC2, we have an all-new descriptive term. Keen to claim the intellectual high ground, and fulfill their government remit to broadcast high-quality educational programmes, a BBC spokeswoman has stated that "This is not a reality show in the Big Brother sense. It is a three-part observational documentary series".

Of course the spokeswoman in question was probably Davina McCall, but even so. The fact is, this is not a reality TV show. It's altogether more high-brow.

So anyway, this three-part series about shagging, drinking and laughing at freaks, began last night with the bold claim that for today's teenagers, "Sex is as casual and throwaway as fast food". Which is why, no matter how satisfying it might seem, half an hour later you want some more. Fortunately though, help is at hand in the form of Christian youth workers Rachel Gardner (ridiculous name) and Dan Burke, who have challenged twelve youngsters aged between 15 and 17 to go without sex for five months. Of course, the government have been challenging 15-year-olds to go without sex for a couple of hundred years now, and they have an entire police force to back them up, but that doesn't worry Dan and Rachel. They have God on their side. And a large box of Polos.

The pair began by organising a meeting for the dirty dozen at Wealdstone Baptist Church in Harrow, where they dubbed the group 'The Romance Academy' (cool huh?), before laying out pillows on the floor, and closing their eyes to pray. Which is surely asking for trouble. We could have had a pregnancy on day one. Fortunately though, nothing happened - I think they were all too stunned by Dan (Burke by name, berk by nature) who repeatedly referred to sex as "doing a whoopsie". Which makes you wonder just how promiscuous Frank Spencer's cat really was.

Rachel, who has rejected traditional church on a Sunday, and prefers to worship in a "sacred space" (presumably her local garden centre), handed each of the horn-monsters a typed 'pledge', which stated that they should indulge in no sexual activity of any kind for the next five months. Which came as something of a shock to 17 year old Jenine (love that spelling), who lost her virginity in a toilet, and who stated "I want to be in love with someone and do it in a bed". Well, it's something to aspire to, I suppose. Jenine was keen to clarify the rule on fingering, but having done so, all twelve duly signed the pledge and went home.

Two weeks later the group met up to go ice skating, which is the modern equivalent of a cold shower, before ending their first month with a weekend away in the country, living together in a big house surrounded by cameras twenty-four hours a day. Although, as the BBC spokeswoman says, "This is not a reality show in the Big Brother sense". The majority of the group spent the weekend smoking, which will obviously kill them, but fortunately the Bible doesn't say anything about that, so Dan and Rachel let it go, and kept a close eye out for hugging instead.

Sure enough, on the first night, 15-year-old Wesley, who likes to be called Wince (presumably as a tribute to TV-AM weather-woman Wincey Willis), successfully identified Jenine as the group's biggest slapper, and despite having spoken no more than three words to her in the previous four weeks, set about getting her drunk and into bed.

The next morning Jenine was shocked by her own behaviour, stating that "I don't even do kissing". It's strictly sex in toilets for that girl. But fortunately Rachel and Dan were straight in there with the Horlicks and Polos, and a tricky situation was soon defused. Though naturally Jenine and Wince chose not to speak to each other again.

Having well and truly bonded (and not just sexually), the twelve were flown out to Florida for a taste of abstinence, US style. America have spent over 200 million dollars teaching sexual abstinence in schools, with the result that the US now has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the western world. So it was a bit of a risk flying Jenine out there.

The group were hooked up with Pastor Jason Goss, who told them that nobody should have a relationship with someone they don't intend to marry, and that he'd be quite disappointed if any daughter of his came home and said she'd been fingered. Meanwhile, Romance Academy member Dominic went on a date with American virgin Rachel Fox (Fox by name...), a member of Pastor Jason's church. So I presume the wedding invites are in the post.

The programme ended with a Christian service of worship and prayer, which half the group walked out of. They claimed they felt uncomfortable with the overtly religious atmosphere of the evening, but frankly if you'd heard Pastor Jason sing, you'd have walked out too. It's no wonder he's celibate.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Lone Shark

On Sunday night at 8pm, ITV1 screened 'Sharks on Trial', a documentary discussing the possible reasons for the marked increase in shark attacks on humans in recent years. The programme concluded that a leading cause could be the relatively new phenomenon of 'cage diving', where people are lowered into the sea inside a metal cage, and sharks are lured to the area by pouring chum (a mixture of blood and guts) into the water. This practice was condemned as irresponsible by many leading experts, because it teaches sharks to associate humans with food.

But hey, what's a bit of irresponsibility when you're making a reality TV show? Nothing, that's what. So a quick commercial break later, and ITV1 launched 'Celebrity Shark Bait', a show which spent an hour doing exactly what the previous programme had warned us not to. It would be nice to think that it was done with a bit of irony, but this is ITV we're talking about. I don't think they know the meaning of the word.

Anyhoo, according to a recent article in The Guardian, the formula for a successful reality show is to have "a pretty one, a funny one, a thick one and a mad one". So step forward the stars of 'Celebrity Shark Bait': Amy Nuttall (pretty), Ruby Wax (funny), Colin Jackson (thick) and Richard E Grant (what's left?). The four were shipped out to South Africa, and stuck in a house together in Capetown, where they were told "a Great White has no regard for celebrity". Yeah, them and me both.

Once settled in, the group were introduced to "shark guru" (shark guru???) Mike Penman, and diving instructor Adam Cruz, who did their best to build up a bit of tension by showing the celebs a video of a dive which went wrong. Or right, depending on whether you're a diver, or a reality show viewer.

I was expecting the four's training to involve an intensive diving course, and hours spent familiarising themselves with their equipment, but strangely their entire preparation seemed to consist of standing in a freezer for two minutes. Which is nothing - I've spent longer in the ice cream cabinet at Tescos. But having experienced a few seconds of cold, they were promptly told they'd be diving the next morning. It's obviously easier than it looks, this cage diving lark.

As luck would have it, the weather turned against the plucky Brits, and the following day's dive had to be abandoned. As Amy Nuttall said, "I am gutted actually". Interestingly, that's precisely what I tuned in to see, but to be honest I had something else in mind.

Fortunately, another two days of sitting around (which celebrities do so well), and the show reached it's climax with the actual dives. Ruby clearly found religion, shouting "Oh my God" about once every three seconds, while Richard and Colin merely commented on how big the Great White is. The clue was in the name.

The actual footage of all four shark dives was both brief and surprisingly tame. Frankly, nothing happened. The celebs may have described it as "awesome", "amazing" and "jaw-dropping", but for us viewers it was five of the dullest minutes of television you're ever likely to see.

Next time, they should do without the cage.