Posted by: Ben | August 10, 2008

TV: Who Dares Sings!

(Television programme. ITV1 / ITV Productions. 8th August 2008.)

If it’s ITV1 on Saturday night, it must be time for lowest common denominator programming that speaks to the viewer’s inner imbecile. Is it bare-knuckle fighting? Drinking games? A programme that comes with the warning “For safety reasons, do not try to recreate anything you have seen on ‘Don’t Try This At Home’?” Nope, it’s karaoke, and they’ve assembled the exact same studio audience from Channel 5’s Night Fever, only ten years have passed and they’ve forgotten they were doing it “ironically” back then.

Presented by an enthusiastic Van Outen and a visibly contemptuous Shephard (who might just be pining for his days as the bass player of Soundgarden), Who Dares Sings! continues ITV1’s exploration of the many, many televisual formats in which to show people singing. If they sing good, they get money. They don’t get makeovers like in Stars In Their Eyes, or have to be put up in Central London apartments for months like in X Factor, so clearly it’s a good deal for ITV.

The most interesting thing about this type of show is analysing the canon of popular music that gets offered as a sacrifice to these tuneless gimps. You know you’ve arrived as a pop star when your work is considered for rotation on Saturday night TV programmes about singing. Even if you’re a one hit wonder. (Deep Blue Something, I’m looking at you. Stop hiding behind Toploader. You know they’re witches, right? Serve them and you’ll be rewarded with untold riches, a cottage in Cornwall and full control of the nation’s school dinner money. Cross them and they’ll put a curse on you to make your hair fall out.)

I really don’t have a natural feel for calculating how a song gets into the canon, except for what I can gain from observation. No electronic dance music (wherever you draw the line to make sure Madonna is in but The Tamperer is out.) No alternative music (although post-Britpop guitar music marketed as “indie” may be acceptable.) No rap or hip-hop of any description.

Wait a minute, was that… Stuck In The Middle With You? Yes, that song which for anyone born after 1970, including Redknapp, can only be about chopping off a man’s ear with a cut-throat razor (going halfway to making him the envy of WDS! viewers everywhere).

It’s also telling in these post-£5,000,000-fine days that instead of a telephone vote, the winner is determined by a computerised judge. Let’s hope that computerised judge has been tested extensively and is invulnerable to viruses, Wargames-style hackers and being left in the back of a taxi by a hapless mid-ranking TV executive, otherwise the man from Ofcom will be comng around again, which won’t be good news for ITV. They’ll have to auction off the contents of the Rovers Return.

Anyway, they all have a laugh, a joke and a sing song. Shephard doesn’t call anyone “peasant”, even though you can tell he really wants to. Entirely inoffensive, and to be honest not bad TV at all. It’s actually quite entertaining to watch, except for the part of your soul that’s screaming “for God’s sake, is it too much to ask that we can have a couple of rough edges occasionally? [and I don’t mean the contestants/audience]. At least when Man O Man was on we got to see Tarrant desperately looking in any direction he could to avoid allowing his gaze to fall longingly over the creatine-catalogue abdomens and greasy male nipples being paraded before him.”

Still, there are things to hate about WDS! if you look for them (and if, like me, you’re the sort of mean old bastard who loves to hate populist television and has a picture of Forsyth over your dartboard, then you’ll probably look for them.) Specifically:

With vanishingly rare exceptions, everyone in television, from the office juniors to the chairmen of the multinational corporations is part of a great venal engine oiled by contempt and envy. Contempt for those ranking below them (and from the point of view of the lower ranking members the only thing below them is the consumer) is balanced by envy for those above. Not that this malaise is unique to television. It exists in every industry with any mystique whatsoever. But it is perhaps most explicit in the world of television, media and celebrity, which helps to encourage us all to stop seeing others as individuals like ourselves, and helping us to feel the same sort of contempt for one another as Grade and his sinister cabal feel for the rest of us.

Not that we need much encouragement sometimes. Lookit! They’re doing that thing where they raise each arm in turn, bent at the elbow, into the air in time to the music, just like they do on the PDC darts. It must be some sort of working class dance. Wait a cotton-pickin’ minute – me, my family and everyone I know are working class, and none of us have ever seen anybody dance like that in real life. I bet they were choreographed by the warm-up man or something. Curse you, Grade.


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