Monday, January 18, 2010

Channel 4's Book Club

So you decide to have a television Book Club. Book Club. Note the precise phrase. For we all know, don't we, what book clubs are like? No one's really there for the books, are they? They're there for the wine, for the chat about house prices and bags and shoes, and the chosen book is just an excuse. So this is what we'll do for a television book club. We can't have wine, of course, well, not beyond the Green Room, but we can have the intoxication of celebrity, a very likeable fashion guru who confesses to read far less than he'd like, a couple of well-loved comedians (one of each sex), and a couple of good-looking actors (one of each sex again) who will at least be able to act looking interested and intelligent even if it's a bit obvious they're acting and even if the female ex-Footballers' Wives Laila Rouass never manages to say anything (and the camera will be able to focus strategically up the thighs of her crossed legs).

Stick them all randomly on sofas (that's how book clubs happen, don't they - people just turn up and plonk down on the nearest seat). Don't bother briefing them, that would be really unrealistic: in book clubs people just say the first thing that comes into their heads, and the biggest personalities get to say the most (although rarely the most considered). Make the main focus of your programme the writer of a celebrity memoir. He will be the focus, even though the billed focus is a novel. He will be the focus not only because the other celebrities are more excited by his presence than the novel, and because he and the female comedian immediately start a basically private but very entertaining bit of sparring (in which she also gets to plug her own celebrity memoir) (this is the sort of thing that happens in book clubs, isn't it?) but because you have allocated the greatest amount of time on the programme to this item. And the questioning is not only entirely adulatory, but focused not so much on his book but on his life. Well, you get a lot of that in books clubs, don't you, people going on about life rather than books, and, let's face it, who after all really wants dry old literary stuff - that's just gonna put people off books, isn't it?

So let's put the serious bookish bit off a bit more by an interview with a mega-selling chick-lit author who can provide some glamour and success and riches and stuff, and then by having a nice little lark, a film of a reporter rushing around Spitalfields with strange words stuck on big cards like street signs, getting charmingly engaged with the public (and hope it doesn't seem embarrassingly forced).

Well, it's getting towards the end of the programme now, so better bite the bullet and have a bit of a film of the serious novel's author talking intelligently about it (though sweeten the pill with some lurid spooky photography).

And finally, with five or fewer minutes to go, the promised discussion, which you have billed as the point of programme. The fashion guru says without elaboration that he doesn't go for Gothic stuff. The female comedian looks a bit uninterested in this, and fails to give an opinion of her own. Well, that's what it's like in book clubs, isn't it? No one's obliged to say anything, after all. Others make a few murmurs, and the general impression is that no one likes it very much. Well, that's how it goes: people in book clubs are so often far more interested in their own egos than books.

And that's it. Book club over. Really authentic. Brilliant.

14 comments:

Rob Shearman said...

No, not brilliant. But at least the write-up was!

Sharon Blackie said...

Lord above, I'm so glad I didn't watch it. I'd have been certifiable by the end. But superb analysis. A perfect summary of all that is wrong with the current world of books and publishing. Will link on the Two Ravens Press blog!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Sharon, I thought I was certifiable - I could hardly believe that that was what I'd seen!

TOM J VOWLER said...

Ha. One to miss, I think.

Anna May said...

The whole show had a care home feel to it - a lot of bewildered people on a sofa talking gibberish.
Did Leyla get paid for sitting there mute, I wonder ? If so, gissa job Channel 4.
I was compelling TV, I haven't cringed so long and so hard since I....well I won't got into that as it's my first visit on this blog !
Great review.
Anna May x
www.annamaymangan.co.uk

nmj said...

Eliz, I watched this after your review to see just how bad... oh dear God...I specifically watched Laila: she did ask Chris Evans how he knew which bits to leave in, and commented that the Sarah Waters' novel 'captures a time'. For me, the worst part was where they all wave goodbye to the viewers, like we - or they - are retarded. The whole thing was mighty embarrassing.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Ah, thanks for the correction - I missed those comments of hers (they ring a bell now you mentioned them) but she was rather out of it all, wasn't she?

Don't know how I could have forgotten the waving - yes, it really was the worst bit - and the way they all giggled about waving was perhaps the worst of all, ie the most patronising to the viewers.

nmj said...

Laila was superfluous to the whole thing, I was being a wee bit sarcastic when I mentioned her input! She did also say sth in passing, that no one listened to, about a character in Sarah Waters, but her being there was purely eye candy, nothing more... And why didn't they just call it the Chris Evans show?

adele said...

You've nailed it completely. It was DIRE! The worst disappointment was Jo Brand....she said two things: "I don't like ghost stories and I hate posh people." Words fail me, but luckily didn't fail you. Ghastly!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Oh, of course, yes she did! So she DID give an opinion, and it was negative too! (Wonder if she would like the Elegance of the Hedgehog, with its contempt for posh people?)

nmj said...

Hey Eliz, Sorry about my muddled comment a few mins ago, I had not finished and it skidded away... Yes, Jo Brand (whom I usually like) did say she didn't like ghost stories and that she hated posh people, but you expected that she was then going to say she had liked The Little Stranger in spite of these feelings, but she didn't finish commenting on the damned book and just rambled and bantered for comic effect... anyway, did you know that we were part of an upmarket audience, just by tuning in?!
http://www.thebookseller.com/news/110215-tv-book-club-draws-upmarket-audience-of-350000.html

Elizabeth Baines said...

Ah, so that's why I was left with the impression that she didn't offer an opinion. That Bookseller makes it look as if the programme was a resounding success with the 'upmarket' lit types (although they did earlier publish some adverse blog comments).

Rachel Fox said...

I put off watching this and then did...in the end...just to see. It was PAINFUL...like a spoof of a bad TV programme. Like a spoof of a spoof.

And I'd agree with others here because I've always quite liked Jo Brand but she was DIRE on this. I'm not sure I'll be able to forgive her.

Having Chris Evans as their first guest was something of a statement (one that went something like 'this is going to be a crap show about nothing').

And I like popular entertainment! I really do.

Bring back Richard and Judy...no, really (maybe that's the idea...).

Minnie said...

Beautifully written, and I thought I was reading satire! Horrified to learn that it was no such thing; but now curious as to how/why business case made for this kind of programme aside from relative cheapness (in both senses of the term). Sleb sightings for the plebs [the programmers' POV, not mine] can't be sufficient justfication, surely? Can it possibly be that the publicity industry has taken over the media to such an extent that, after the success of RnJ's Book Club, presenting its vapid clients in a 'literary' context is seen as 'the way forward at this moment in time'? Oh, dear ...