Couch Potato on Strictly, Jeremy Kyle and yumming up Come Dine with Me

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Our Sunday web columnist takes a wry look at the week’s TV:

This time last year, if I was asked to tinker with the format at BBC’s ballroom, my first change would have been removing Alesha Dixon’s cackle, and by default Alesha Dixon, from the panel.

Call me crazy, but for the singer’s replacement I’d have plumped ideally for a dance expert (it’s madness, I know), possibly someone who had already appeared and shone as a guest judge.

I don’t know, say, a retired prima ballerina, with the letters CBE after her name.

It would have taken neither a genius nor the studio’s searchlights to locate that particular individual.

But, after all, this is the BBC we’re talking about. They’d have had neither the bottle nor the nous to do it.

Obvious decisions, such as not axing the brilliant Shooting Stars and not giving the atrocious Citizen Khan a second series, rarely seem to stare them in the face.

And yet, we’ve reached the climax of Strictly Come Dancing’s best ever year, where Alesha has been replaced by Darcey Bussell.

On that front at least, Auntie cannot claim the credit, or even an assist.

The personnel change happened, as you’ll no doubt recall, because Simon Cowell wanted to give the show a bloody nose for sneaking a ratings victory, so he poached its fourth best judge for the same role on Britain’s Got Talent.

If he felt smug about that, boy is he regretting it now.

Because all it achieved was to position Strictly exactly where it wanted to be.

Darcey’s introduction added some real class and, once she’d overcome her debut episode “yar?” Tourette’s, she fitted right in.

All the panel then needed, I thought, to balance it out was for Len Goodman to move one seat further away from Craig Revel Horwood to put an end to the kind of childish squabbles between the judges that have made The X Factor unwatchable (one of many, many reasons, anyway).

And they only went and did that! Incredible. “BBC in good decision” shocker.

Still, I know it’s Christmas, but let’s not get carried away. There are, you see, several reasons why Strictly is still not the best reality/talent show, a title held by The Apprentice narrowly over I’m A Celebrity.

Johnny Ball was voted out before his partner Aliona Vilani could return from injury (I can’t forgive Britain for that), Tess Daly’s puns are beyond tiresome, and Bruce Forsyth’s music hall routine needs mothballing.

But even Brucie’s one-man battles with the audience were few and far between this year, there’s fun oozing through the entire show (I won’t be forgetting Michael Vaughan’s jive in a hurry), the judges’ criticism is constructive and imaginative (nobody says: “You were on point”), and whereas X Factor would have exploited every celebrity in the audience like a North Sea oilfield, Strictly gives at most a polite mention of the likes of Cheryl Cole and Nicola Roberts supporting Nimble Kimble in the front row.

Crucially, the casting of the celebrities has been brilliant, in particular Lisa Riley who departed last weekend after a salsa in which she thudded into the dancefloor with greater impact than Channel 4 deliberately crash-landing a Boeing 727 in the Mexican desert.

Honestly, the sight of her in a hula dress and out of control for that floor spin was like a cross between Felix Baumgartner at 128,000ft, Rod Hull’s Emu, and a Vileda super mop.

What sets Strictly apart from X Factor most of all, however, is the absence of any exploitation of personal tragedy.

Denise Van Outen and Lisa Riley both lost nearest and dearest shortly before the series.

And yet, like Robbie Savage last year when his friend Gary Speed died, the show paid them the greatest respect possible by mentioning it the same number of times as I hope to see another series of The X Factor.


Nice one, Strictly.


November 29, 2012, 5.58am, a random ITV newscaster: “Now here’s the red-top tabloids with, frankly, non-stories from the Australian jungle on their front pages, about I’m A Celebrity.”

December 19, 2012, 1.48pm, ITV newscaster Geraint Vincent: “A swimmer in Australia got a nasty surprise when he went for a dip. A 4ft crocodile who was basking on rocks nearby suddenly took off and landed right on top of him. But despite the obvious danger, the man was laughing so much he didn’t rush to get out of the water.”

ITV News there, with the latest non-story from the Australian jungle.


This week’s Couch Potato Spudulike awards go to:

Homeland building to a thrilling finale.

Strictly Come Dancing likewise.

Keith Lemon finally finding a TV role that suits him, on the properly funny Take Me Out Celebrity Christmas Special.

And Jeremy Kyle, on that morning daytime programme he does, asking Danniella Westbrook: “You like this show, don’t you?”

Westbrook: “Yes, I watch it all the time.”

Kyle: “Really? Get a job, love.”


Shocks and surprises all round at London’s ExCeL centre, on a night as glittering as Sue Barker’s jacket (Liberace called, he wants it back).

Andy Murray managed to crack a smile, Louis Smith turned up in the audience as an extra from The IT Crowd, and uniquely the BBC celebrated a phenomenal year of British sport that was actually worth celebrating.

It’s the overrunning occasion that is Sports Personality of the Year where the right man, Bradley Wiggins, won the main award, and Team GB and Paralympics GB were as wonderfully inseparable in the VTs as they were in being named Team of the Year, even if that did feel a bit like the entire continent of Europe winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

There were some disappointments. Former Chelsea diver Didier Drogba failed to run to the podium, clatter into Gary Lineker, and roll around in agony for several minutes.

And I think we can stop thanking the Games Makers now.

But the extraordinary events of the last 12 months came flooding back in abundance – London 2012, Super Saturday, the Miracle of Medinah, Rod Stewart’s tears when Celtic beat Barcelona, the UNBELIEVABLE Bert Le Clos... nothing was missed out.

But the biggest surprise wasn’t Mo Farah out of the top three, it was Wiggo’s acceptance speech in which he thanked his nan for: “Pressing redial God knows how many times.”

That didn’t work for Christopher Maloney, Brad.


Sir David Frost and Sir Michael Parkinson must be kicking themselves.

They lost out on the Alex Reid, Kerry Katona, and Danniella Westbrook interviews to The Jeremy Kyle Show this week.

I won’t spend long dwelling on them because, you know, it’s The Jeremy Kyle Show.

But Katona’s plea to anyone with addiction problems to learn from her mistakes was certainly heartfelt:

“At 14, my mum gave me my first drug, which was speed.”

You can’t blame yourself for that, Kerry.

“I took cocaine in the house while the kids were in the garden.”

Not great, but at least it was out of their sight.

“My darkest point was being on a three-day bender, not bathing, not washing, I had no family around me and I tried to cut myself.”

How awful. But you got through it.

“I am officially back in Atomic Kitten.”

What?! Have you learned NOTHING, Kerry?!


The number of times Channel 4 airs repeats of Come Dine With Me, either the civilian or celebrity version, has become a complete joke.

But this week, there was a rare series of the show which not only hadn’t been broadcast before but was, dare I say it, simply brilliant.

We had Crissy Rock from Benidorm, Nick Pickard, “Hollyoaks’ longest-serving cast member”, which is why I’ve never heard of him, Chelsee Healey, and Celebrity Big Brother sourpuss Jasmine Lennard, “Simon Cowell’s girlfriend... for about five minutes,” as narrator Dave Lamb put it.

Healey, bless her dough-for-brains heart, can’t sleep without a blanket named Nicola, isn’t sure whether Christmas is “Jesus’s birthday”, thinks an oven is called a heater, put a spoon in her mouth while slicing onions because a friend, clearly winding her up, had told her it stops you crying, and chopped some chillies while remembering to “take out all these dot things” (the seeds).

So if I tell you that she was only the second most unhinged of the bunch, you get some idea just how off the wall is LA-based stick insect and world’s most selfish woman Jasmine Lennard.

She’s a horrendous, self-absorbed individual, and therefore ideal for reality TV, spouting gems like these:

“I prefer birthdays to Christmas, specifically mine, because you have to share Christmas with everyone else.”

“I’m a bit concerned eating anything that someone has personally cooked when they’re not a chef.”

“I don’t eat fish because people pee in the sea and there’s the whole Little Mermaid under the sea, the whole, there’s the whole, you know?”

Not as such, no.

And she complained, in all seriousness, to a Hollyoaks actor dressed as Santa that he never gave her what she wanted as a child.

Lennard reckoned her behaviour at Monday’s first dinner party was polite: “Apart from the food and the tree, of course,” that being the moment she surreptitiously flicked Healey’s reheated dessert, spoon by catapulting spoon, behind her into the Christmas display rather than just leave it in the bowl.

By the end of day two she’d had enough, walked, and had to be replaced for the rest of the week by Margi Clarke, but not before this parting shot to her fellow diners: “Combine all their characters together, it wouldn’t make one person that I would like to have dinner with.

“There’s a reason why some people holiday at Butlins and some people holiday at the Sandy Lane in Barbados.”

And if you missed it, don’t worry. It will be repeated next Thursday, next Friday, next Saturday, next Sunday.....


This week’s Couch Potato Spuduhate awards go to:

ITV2 repeating The Xtra Factor 17 times this week.

Paddy McGuinness lying about the 30 Take Me Out girls returning from previous series: “Unbelievably, they’re still single,” when I’ve never believed anything more.

National Geographic channel’s apocalyptic End of the World week (I bet they feel pretty daft now).

Girls Aloud: 10 Years At The Top mentioning Nadine’s fear of heights, Kimberley’s role as Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical, and Nicola’s campaign to ban sunbeds for teenagers, when oddly it didn’t mention “movie star” (really?) Cheryl Cole’s assault conviction or, even more embarrassing, Sarah Harding hosting Dating In The Dark.

And ITV2 sucking the very spirit out of Christmas with The Only Way Is Essexmas and A Celebrity Juicemas Carol.

So on that note, I’m taking a week’s break so I can spend time focusing on the true meaning of the festive period.

World’s Strongest Man finals, Channel 5, Thursday, December 27, to New Year’s Day.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, folks. See you in 2013.