Monday 25th February 2008... if this is what it takes
I've been most annoyed to discover that my iTunes subscription to the audio podcast HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher has stopped working; it seems that the podcast is no longer available outside the US. This cessation coincided with the start of the whole video of the show being made podcastable (previously it was only the audio) and I've a sneaking suspicion it may have something to do with the resolution of the WGA strike, which I supported, so I guess it's only fair that I should have to endure some minor irritation now it's been "won". And I know the whole thing ends up on YouTube within about five minutes of being broadcast, it's just that the audio was great to listen to on car journeys. Oh well.
It's occasionally put to me by fans of the kind of satirical humour like what I do, that it's a shame there's no true British equivalent of Real Time or (more usually, since it's the one that actually gets shown over here) The Daily Show. I often reply that it's not for want of trying; my colleague Marcus Brigstocke's The Late Edition is a pretty decent stab at doing something Jon Stewart-esque (as he'd be the first to admit)...
So why can't we do it? Why can't we come up with anything as acerbic and edgy in this country? Well I think a major factor is that it's hard to do anything quite that high-energy on British telly; you listen to the whoops and screams that greet Stewart and Maher, and then imagine a UK studio audience making the same sort of noise... It'd sound horrendously forced. It's almost impossible to replicate that kind of excitement over here.
BUT... the main reason we can't reproduce Real Time or The Daily Show (particularly The Daily Show) is the fundamental difference between US TV news and UK TV news... There's an odd sort of inversion between Britain and America, news-wise; we have some of the worst newspapers in the world in terms of bias, sensationalism and prurience, but by and large our TV news is calm, objective and responsible. Over there their newspapers pride themselves on mature and serious journalism while their TV news consists of hysterical punditry, speculation, editorial and (in the case of Fox News) straightforward propaganda. Marcus can aspire to Jon Stewart's level of wit and perspicacity but what he simply doesn't have is CNN, MSNBC and Fox shovelling material at him on an hourly basis. Our TV news just isn't that ridiculous.
I've just seen an interview on Sky News with Pamela Wright, partner of freshly convicted serial killer Steve Wright (and incidentally, no I HAVEN'T asked The Other Steve Wright how he feels about his name being co-opted in this way, nor do I intend to). One could question the appropriateness of her going on the record quite so soon, but I imagine she might be anxious to have her say as soon as possible in order to stop the she-must-have-known mutterings before they gain momentum.
The interview was conducted by Kay Burley, previously best known for smashing her head on the ice during rehearsals for ITV's Dancing On Ice, and also for announcing on September 11th 2001 that "the entire eastern seaboard of the United States has been decimated by a terrorist attack" (which, oddly enough, happened BEFORE she smashed her head on the ice). She raised the issue of Wright's habit of picking up prostitutes (which he apparently had been doing for some time before moving on to murdering them); Kay Burley mentioned that Wright blamed his prostitute habit on his lack of a sex life at home; Pamela Wright agreed that they indeed hadn't had much of a sex life for quite a while.
Watching the interview (which you can here) it suddenly becomes horribly horribly apparent what Kay Burley's going to say next, and when I saw it I was practically begging her through the screen not to. It's the single worst thing she could possibly say, and yet you just know she's going to say it. And indeed she does (these are her actual words):
"Do you think if you'd had a better sex life he wouldn't have done this?"
Or, to put it another way, "If you weren't so frigid wouldn't all those girls still be alive?"
Can you believe that? She's interviewing a woman (who breaks down in tears after that question, in case you were wondering) whose life partner has just turned out to be an ice-blooded serial murderer, and she asks whether it isn't really her own fault for not putting out more?
Maybe soon we will be able to do our own Daily Show, if this is the sort of journalism we're starting to embrace on British TV news. But that won't be any sort of compensation.