Our Sunday web columnist takes a wry look at the week’s TV:
During the long unforgiving arid months, Kenya’s Masai Mara nature reserve is home to more grazing wild animals than anywhere else in the world, creating a unique theatre of life-or-death, hunter-versus-prey drama.
During the rainy season, it all but disappears.
“Hello, I’m Richard Hammond and I’m in Kenya’s Masai Mara in the rainy season.”
Yes, just when television crews should be packing up, wringing out their ponchos and heading home, BBC1 sends the host of Total Wipeout to lion-infested Africa, in the dead of night, for Planet Earth Live (you can see how this one got commissioned).
“The most ambitious global wildlife series ever undertaken”, according to its publicity, in that its ambition seems to be producing a three-week wildlife show with the least chance of finding wildlife.
The wildebeest are 200 miles south, the elephants 200 miles north, the BBC’s marbles even further afield.
To date, Hammond and co-presenter new-mum Julia Bradbury, getting all maternal about bear cubs in Minnesota, have spent five hours trying to justify why they’re doing this in May:
“It’s the leanest time of year for our lion cubs.” “It’s the toughest time of year.” “It’s make or break for our elephant calves.”
It’s a colossal waste of time and money, truth be told, on a series whose original ambition, as far as I can make out, was for a worldwide, on-location satellite link-up, an idea abandoned on day one when Hammond teed up a live interview with macaque expert Gavin Thurston in Sri Lanka but hadn’t been told the small detail: “Gavin has gone to bed.”
But it’s live. They’ve mentioned that a few times. It’s happening right now. Live, in fact, in the pitch black of the Kenyan night, when the only animals you can see are heat-emitting blobs hiding behind the nearest acacia tree, which is why most of the footage isn’t live at all but pre-recorded.
Unfortunately, even that is running dry.
Moja and his mother are hiding from other lions and consequently the camera crew, and the killer whales hunting grey whales in Monterey Bay, California, have vamooshed, leaving Bradbury with nothing to show but a map with red and blue arrows of where they might have headed.
The filming is admittedly beautiful and some of the footage dramatic, not least the baby elephants almost being swept to their deaths trying to cross a river.
But unlike previous programmes from the BBC Natural History Unit, the self-congratulation is overpowering.
The trouble is, for all its plus points, Planet Earth Live annoys twice as much, not least Hammond’s geography lessons, the fact he asked viewers to name Moja’s mother without mentioning only Swahili ones would be considered, and his excitement when a dung beetle flew into camp, which lasted right until it promptly flew off again and they had to go to another VT.
Even with the benefit of daylight, Bradbury has been spending most her time examining wolf poo, “which is quite hairy”, chewing leaves and pretending to urinate in the undergrowth, which I’m sure is a practical joke by Dr Lynn Rogers, who has a “PhD in bears”.
It shouldn’t require hindsight to realise that, although by no means the series’ biggest problem, hiring presenters without expert knowledge, let alone one-third of Top Gear and That’s Britain’s co-host, was a mistake.
Barring a buffalo stampede on the BBC’s tent in Kenya this week, the show’s enduring memory will be Hammond insisting: “We’re not just here to look at hippos in the dark,” shortly before announcing: “Let’s have a look at the thermal camera. I think we’ve got a hippo out there!”
So that’s one hippo out there. And two elephants in the room.
ITV1’s Tonight strand, the highlights to date.
April 1999. An interview with Stephen Lawrence murder suspect Gary Dobson, who would be convicted 13 years later.
April 2002. An interview with Damilola Taylor’s father Richard.
February 2003. An interview with Michael Jackson that led to charges of child molestation.
May 2012. An interview with Angela Tidmarsh, organiser of the British Asparagus Festival, in Evesham, featuring a woman known as the “Asparamancer” who predicts people’s fortunes by throwing asparagus spears to the ground, which had to be cancelled because of rain.
Keep up the good work, Tonight.
Tonight’s Channel 4 Comedy Gala sure has a varied line-up of “some of the biggest names in comedy”, a description that apparently applies to Jonathan Ross who, by the by, is managed by Addison Cresswell’s talent agency.
There’s also Alan Carr (a Cresswell client), Lee Evans (also Cresswell), Michael McIntyre (Cresswell too), Jack Dee (ditto), Josh Widdicombe (yep), Paul Chowdry (yeppity), Seann Walsh (yeppity-yep), Jon Richardson (aha), Sean Lock (guess who), Jo Brand (you know it), Kevin Bridges (Mr Addison Cresswell), and Micky Flanagan...
Who’s looked after by James Grant.
This week’s Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to:
Sky Sports’ awesome Man City v QPR season climax.
UKTV’s awesome Man v Food.
Challenge channel’s refusal to recognise the concept of inflation on All-New Blockbusters by keeping the prize for correct answers at 1983’s £5 levels.
Alan Sugar’s Kenneth Williams impression on The Apprentice (Zippy doing Frank Spencer).
And BBC4’s Tales of Television Centre which had revelations galore of goings-on down the years inside BBC TV’s HQ:
Sarah Greene had nookie with Mike Smith while Terry Wogan was in the next dressing room.
Stevie Wonder ran the riff from Uptight (Everything’s Alright) past Tony Blackburn to make sure it was good.
Joan Collins brought her own lunch in a Tupperware container to the canteen.
Children’s TV presenters went on air stoned, which explains The Magic Roundabout and Fingermouse.
And Barry Norman revealed former BBC1 controller Sir Paul Fox mistakenly thought he wore a wig and ordered a channel-wide ban on hairpieces.
Pity it’s still not in force today. Imagine how much entertaining Strictly Come Dancing could be.
Week something-or-other of The Apprentice’s weakest ever run and time now to salute my hero of the hour, Adam Corbally.
Market trader. Choreographer. Modern art critic. Michael Jackson dance impersonator.
And, as of Wednesday night on BBC1, wine connoisseur with an innate knowledge of all things “terroir”, as Oz Clarke and James May would say.
Adam, a man of simple tastes who counts corned beef as gourmet food and doesn’t appear to have travelled beyond the Derbyshire borders, is so consistently a fish out of water that I suspect he’s a fish allergic to water.
None more so than when he had to clarify that the latest task was about sparkling wine and “has nothing to do with champagne?”
More of a war on terroir, to be honest, he spent day one getting trollied with wine merchant Tom who mused over a glass of bubbly: “There are notes of creamy vanilla which might be the French oak.”
Greengrocer Adam: “It tastes tangy, like a Granny Smith. It smells of Christmas cake.”
He is the saviour of a comparatively poor series hamstrung by a lack of other real characters, aside from Stephen who believes the word “grandeur”, more than any other, represents Britishness.
The rest of the cast are too streetwise to the executioner on the cutting room floor and guard what they say.
Disappointingly, I haven’t even heard one of the candidates’ trademark introduction concluded like this: “Hello ladies and gentlemen, my name’s Ricky Martin and I’m here to... why are you all laughing?”
Many have already written the show’s obituary. It is too soon for that.
The Apprentice remains one of the most brilliantly produced programmes around and axing it would leave a gaping hole in Auntie’s primetime schedule.
But perhaps it is time for a revamp, possibly by looking to other BBC shows for ideas.
After all, Sugar already has a spinny chair.
This week’s Couch Potato Spuduhate awards go to:
The prospect of BBC1’s daytime schedule being flooded with yet more antiques and property shows with the ditching of children’s programmes on terrestrial.
Chris Moyles on the finale of Sky Living dating show The Love Machine threatening a second series.
BBC2 failing to edit Gary Glitter from 1977 TOTP history and sending Felicity Kendal to India to find out about Shakespeare (Stratford-upon-Avon, anyone?).
The Voice coaches applauding themselves.
And Britain’s Got Talent taking five times as long as this week’s Bang Goes The Theory to explain that dogs can do clever tricks.
I’d tell Cowell himself. But you know what they say about old dogs.
This Morning’s viewers’ quiz question: “Complete this well-known saying. ‘Money doesn’t grow on...’
D) £1.03 ITV phone-in competitions.
Briefly over to ITV2’s atrocious new sub-Apprentice-for-wannabe-journalists contest The Exclusives, where the glamour began with ironing shirts, buying snacks for the cast of Made In Chelsea and, even worse, transcribing an interview with Michelle Bass, who once had sex under the table on Big Brother.
The six hopefuls competing for a job on a glossy magazine were then off to out-scoop each other at the BRITs and delivered with a chat with THE Georgia Salpa, who once didn’t have sex on Big Brother.
And back at More! magazine, the voiceover informed us: “Felix is on the sofa trying to grab a few column inches.”
That boy will go far. I hear that sort of thing has helped some showbiz journalists get to the top.
Channel 4’s enlightening if predictably trashy Sex, Lies and Rinsing Guys was a public-service warning to all men with more money than sense about “rinsers”, women who target guys purely for lavish gifts in return for nothing but friendship.
And in other news, Dannii Minogue has reportedly demanded £5million from Simon Cowell to return to The X Factor.
Anna Richardson opened C4’s Secret Eaters by announcing: “We’re exposing the hidden eating habits of the nation one household at a time.”
So it’s going to be a long series then.
Episode one first, though, which had the following conclusion about why a pair overweight siblings who didn’t think they eat too much were overweight.
They eat too much.
I think I’ll skip the rest of the series, Anna. I’m on a TV diet.
Hope everything goes well on the Olympic Torch relay.
Otherwise The One Show will be stumped for material for the next two months.