Robert Hampton

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19th March 2011

Not the Ten O’Clock News
Posted by at 6.38pm | 1 response | Television

When Channel 4 announced 10 O’Clock Live, I was sceptical. A topical comedy show reacting to the news? Channel 4’s recent record in this area is littered with less than thrilling examples including The 11 O’Clock Show and Tonightly. I was especially disappointed when, at almost the same time, we were told that The Daily Show had been axed from More4. Was Channel 4 worried that the US import would show up its own attempt at news dissection?

I had quite low expectations, in spite of the top roster of talent we were promised: Jimmy Carr, David Mitchell, Charlie Brooker and Lauren Laverne. All good in their own right, but would they work well together in the high-pressure environment of live telly? I wasn’t convinced.

I sat down in front of the first episode with a very jaded eye. I fully expected to hate it, and the first few episodes were shaky, but I decided to stick with it in the hope that it might improve. I’m glad I did, because the show has overcome its initial nervousness and after nine episodes has built up confidence, to the point that I now look forward to it each week.

Topical news-based comedy like this is quite difficult to do. If you’re tackling serious issues through humour, great care must be taken to avoid treating a subject too lightly — or even worse, looking smug. It’s hard to get right, but 10 O’Clock Live manages to pull it off, most of the time anyway.

As for the Daily Show comparison, well… to be honest, the show is different enough that direct comparisons with Jon Stewart’s programme are meaningless. Many of the targets — evil politicians, corrupt bankers, media distortions — are the same, but the presentation is completely different.

Truly though, the great thing about it is that Charlie Brooker gets to do what amounts to a mini-version of Newswipe for weeks on end. In this clip from Thursday’s show, he attacks the TV and newspaper coverage of the Japanese earthquake, the ensuing tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The absolute stand-out for me though has been — surprisingly — Jimmy Carr. He’s always been a bit of a contradictory figure for me. I enjoy his contributions on panel shows such as QI, but don’t really care for his stand-up. On 10 O’Clock Live however, he has been excellent, not only at delivering the topical monologue at the top of the show, but also throwing himself into silly sketches as a range of characters, from Silvio Berlusconi, an SAS operative, even a (female!) Barclays bank teller.

The show isn’t perfect by any means. The political interviews and panel discussions, presumably designed to inject a bit of gravitas into proceedings, are rarely very enlightening. This is probably because they are not allocated enough time in the show, and the presenters are forced to end them just as they threaten to get interesting. Lauren Laverne, meanwhile, never seems to get anything worthwhile to do.

The show is also a victim of odd scheduling by Channel 4 – at 10 o’clock on Thursday, which clashes with the main news on both BBC1 and ITV1, as well as the first 25 minutes of Newsnight and Question Time.

The show is nine episodes in to a 15-episode run. I hope it comes back again for another run. If Channel 4 stick with it, they could have a genuine hit on their hands. If you watched the first few episodes and gave up, I strongly recommend you give it another go.

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One Response
  1. Comment by Kathryn
    20th March 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I went to see this Live at the BBC Studios in White City. I was unfortunate enough to have to put on a pig nose for some ‘Bankers in Need’ sketch courtesy of Jimmy Carr.

    Anyways, it’s okay. I didn’t find it too funny but then again I was very conscious of the cameras and haven’t watched it since. Also, I hate Lauren Laverne, mostly because she is talentless and wooden 😉