Political Promise

10 O’Clock Live: a vehicle for political accessibility

In Garry Lee on January 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Taking a look at the first episode of Channel 4’s new political programme 10 O’Clock Live, Garry Lee discusses the show’s hidden potential as a way of making politics more accessible. From its cheesy, high-budgeted, and overpoweringly colourful visual introduction, I wanted strongly to dislike 10 O’Clock Live, and I was given many opportunities to express my disapproval throughout the course of the first episode of fifteen hour long weekly shows. Aside from the ridiculous, epileptic-fit-inducing set, the presence and the role played by Lauren Laverne, as some sort of mediator of comedians that bash into long tired out political ‘issues’ and say rude words for cheap laughs, was a gross misconduct of the Channel 4 casting staff who seem to have resorted to a drunken game of spin the bottle in the selection of their token female co-host. Laverne possesses an uncanny ability in managing to talk through the punch lines of nearly everyone she encounters, no matter how the joke is delivered. However, the show has many redeeming features and addresses one of my key wants; I would like for politics to be accessible to everyone.

The basis for the show is made up of different fragments. The first Alternative Election Night show on Channel 4 with the same cast was a ratings smash hit with an average of 1.683 million viewers over the duration of the broadcast. It didn’t challenge the BBC’s dominance in this area, but the show did manage to hold more viewers than ITV’s own political coverage of the night which only attracted 1.263 million viewers, and successfully demonstrated that there was a demand for a live political comedy show. The other beacon of influence is the US hit The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which according to the New York Times averages at about 1.9 million viewers per episode. Since Channel 4 had the cast assembled, all except for Charlie Brooker could be considered regulars for the channel, all they really had to do was to lift the format from the popular US show featuring a comedic look at the news, feature pieces and interviews with big names associated with the issues being discussed and to translate it for a British audience.

On watching the programme, and being a previous fan of Brooker, Carr and Mitchell’s work outside of the show, I have to say that episode one did not quite hit the mark for me. Charlie Brooker’s coverage of the Tunisian troubles and his fleeting comment about America serving up “free bullets with every happy meal”, David Mitchell’s informative and sensible interview with David Willetts MP on the debate of the fairness of paying tuition fees and Jimmy Carr’s mesmerised, if slightly patronising, interview with Professor Bjørn Lomborg were the highlights of the episode. It’s clear that once the cast have used up their rolodex of jokes about the more popular, ratings grabbing issues that behind it is the potential for a more politically focused and still very funny show. The only problem I can foresee with the format is that it depends largely on the co-operation of MPs and their participation in the show. While the chief broadcasting adviser to David Cameron, Michael Salter, confirmed with The Guardian that the government had reacted positively to the format and is co-operating, there is a certain amount of risk involved that is absent from the relatively politically impartial BBC. I wouldn’t go as far to say that without MPs the show wouldn’t exist, but a lot of the appeal to watch does stem from the live interviewing and the potential for the quick-witted hosts, minus Laverne, to catch big political figures off-guard. After all, you could excuse MPs for under-estimating the depths of the host’s political knowledge.

It would be unfair to judge the series on a whole from a single episode, especially when the potential for raising the public’s awareness of political issues is high. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a report entitled ‘Public Knowledge of Current Affairs Little Changed by News and Information Revolutions: What Americans Know: 1989-2007’, and they identified a stark contrast in the knowledge levels of audiences who watch shows such as The Daily Show in contrast with those who watch Fox News. In their survey, only 35% of Americans scored in the high knowledge category, whereas 54% of those who watch the Daily Show scored in the high knowledge category. My point for bringing this up is, whether you enjoy 10 O’Clock Live or not, there is nothing that we should be complaining about here. Channel 4 as a provider of entertainment has only commissioned what there is a demand for. What they have identified, is that there is a demand for a political, light entertainment show aimed at a younger generation. A show aimed at a younger audience than the typical age of those who watch Newsnight, which the show is to compete with for viewers. The mere existence of the show is a positive development in the sense that whatever level of political interest you have, there is now a show that you can be directed to that satisfies your need for political news. The key word here is accessibility. No longer is politics demoted to BBC Parliament and every so often to the front page of the Sun when an MP has bought a duck house or taken a swing at a member of the public in retaliation for being hit with an egg. Politics is now all over the schedule, and that is something we should applaud.

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