» Media ¦ What You Can Get Away With

hateAs part of my long-running scheme to become insanely rich while doing as little work as possible, I had another brilliant idea that will surely make me loads of money if someone else is willing to do all the work and then pay me for the inspiration.

Watching the usual Thursday night flurry of indignant commentary on Twitter’s #bbqt hashtag, it occurred to me that there exists a large group of people (sometimes including me) who appear to only watch some things on TV in order to mock it and argue about it on Twitter. There’s very little ‘hey, this is great, you should turn it on and watch it’ and lots more ‘oh god, this is terrible, they’re all completely wrong.’ This proves that we can have lots of fun socially hate-watching something, while the things we love we prefer to do alone.

That’s all well and good (though a little short of any actual evidence), you say, but how does this revelation lead to your masterplan of getting rich through doing as little work as possible? Yes, certain programmes do have an oddly negative fanbase, but monetising that group to provide me with the many mansions I’m sure I deserve is not a simple prospect, is it? Let’s be honest, whoever is behind Dimblebot isn’t having to sell their mugs and t-shirts through tax havens to protect their millions.

But that’s because they’re thinking too small. What we need is a way to unite all the various hatedoms, to give them one place in which to gather and virtually vent their spleens, to guarantee that at any time of day they can join in an active community of haters who’ll appreciate their wittily crafted quips and bile-laden put downs. What we need, in short, is The Hate Channel.

It’s quite simple. A TV channel that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, offers programming that’s solely designed to aggravate and promote communal snark (use of the official #hatechannel hashtags will be promoted, of course). As it’s a likely to begin life as a lower-tier service, it will have to buy in a lot of pre-hated content, but most people are so happy to have something to virtually shout at that they won’t care that it’s a repeat. (No one ever listens to what Goldstein says in the Two Minute Hate, after all)

I’m envisaging mining the archives for previous seasons of classic reality hatealongs like The Apprentice and Made In Chelsea. For drama, there’d entire decades of terrible stuff that was just unlucky to be shown in an age before Twitter: save yourself from the 879th iteration of your argument about Steven Moffat by joining in the bile-ridden discussion of Bonekickers, Attachments, Bugs and countless others, while classic drama will resurrect the most earnestly wooden and dated Plays For Today and other 70s drama to enable group mockery of outdated social norms. Sport will centre around exclusive rights to complete match broadcasts of the World Cup’s least interesting 0-0 draws, cricket’s dullest draws and a The Complete Commentaries of Clive Tyldesley. News will be easy to cover, with The Best Of Kay Burley at 6pm and 10pm every night (with no repeats guaranteed!), followed by Newsnight’s Most Pointless Moments and repeats of Question Time. Current affairs programming also dominates weekend mornings giving viewers the chance to catch up with Andrew Marr’s Least Penetrating Interviews and Sunday Morning Vaguely Religious Themed Shows’ Least Intelligent Arguments.

As the budget permits, new and original programming will be interspersed into the mix, and I’m sure the daily three-hour broadcast of Richard Littlejohn In Conversation With Katie Hopkins will arouse much righteous indignation, with political balance provided by Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee Explain Why You’re Wrong About Everything. I’m also sure that the very flexible panel show format Extremely Minor Celebrities Saying Something Mildly Controversial will prove a great hit, providing everyone agrees to leave all their restraint behind before watching, but as that seems to be de rigueur for most modern TV commentary, we should be fine.

Once the viewer numbers pick up, we’ll be able to ensure that it remains a constant feed of hate-watching by only allowing adverts that actively encourage angered responses. Christmas advertising will start in January each year, and be accompanied by a stream of cheaply made adverts for companies operating on the very edge of legality and morality, all repeated endlessly with ad breaks chopped into programmes at random. Aspect ratios and picture quality of all programmes will be endlessly tinkered with, just to ensure that every form of internet pedant has something to annoy them, and schedules will be advisory at best, regularly tinkered with to ensure that you never quite get to see what you were expecting.

The Hate Channel – We Hate What You Hate, And We Hate You. It’s the future of television, now make it real and give me my 10%.

I noted a couple of weeks ago that Have I Got News For You had made a little bit of history a fortnight ago with its first ever episode with more women onscreen than men. I don’t know if we’ll have to wait seventeen more years until all the guests are female again, but this series does appear to be on course to set a new record for women guests.

At the moment, this series has featured 18 guests, of which nine were women. There are four more shows after this, and if each of them has a female guest (in accordance with BBC policy), there’ll be at least 13 out of the 30 in total. That’ll be 43% of the total, the highest HIGNFY has ever managed for a series. (The current record is the first ever series, where 37.5% of the guests were women) If just one of those women guests is the host, there’ll have been an equal number of male and female hosts in this series. This series’ four women hosts already matches the highest number achieved by series 42 in 2011.

With just a couple of other female guests this series, they could finally reach a 50-50 balance of woman and men this series, and maybe that’ll be the shape of things to come. Of course, they could attempt to redress the historic imbalance of male to female guests, and the current rate of 19 shows a year with three guests on each, it’d only take them around 15 years to get there.

(As ever, the spreadsheet is here if you want to see the figures for yourself)

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350x350.fitandcropIt’s been a while since I’ve done a review of anything here, but I wanted to spread the word about this production, in the hope that it might spur some of you into going to see it.

The Fitzrovia Radio Hour are a company that have been producing live versions of 40s and 50s style radio broadcasts – complete with traditional sound effects produced on stage – since 2008. They’ve come together with Colchester’s Mercury Theatre to produce a version of Dracula that’s a fantastic piece of stage comedy.

We’re invited in as the studio audience to watch a BBC radio production of Dracula. The company’s lead performer, Mr Starkey (perhaps better known to my readers as Doctor Who‘s Strax) helps set the scene for us. Some of the regular repertory company’s finest performers will be presenting us with a dramatic presentation of Bran Stoker’s Dracula, and to add some verisimilitude to the performance a real-life Romanian aristocrat, Count Alucard, will be playing the part of Dracula. Meanwhile, outside the studio, Britain is about to be battered by violent storms accompanied by thunder and lightning, and a number of mysterious deaths have been occurring in the vicinity of Broadcasting House…

What follows is two stories in one: the adaptation of Dracula being performed with all the plum tones and ham acting one expects from early radio drama; and the events going on inside the studio as members of the company renew old feuds and start new flirtations, cues are missed, sound effects are generated, and Count Alucard’s behaviour becomes increasingly harder to explain as method acting.

The whole thing comes together to produce a wonderfully funny performance and the cast are all superb in their roles, bringing some perfect comic timing (including some wonderfully comedic pauses in the delivery) and interaction with the audience. My only complaint would be that there are so many different things happening on stage at various times it’s hard to be sure that you’re experiencing everything that’s going on – while your attention is focused on the performers at the main microphone, something else could be going on at the effects table at one side of the stage and with the piano player at the other. It’s all expertly put together, and the escalating level of farce is carefully managed to not overwhelm the story.

I’d definitely recommend going to see this if you can – it’s on at the Mercury until the 15th November (go here to book tickets and find out more) and I don’t know if it will have performances anywhere else afterwards, or if it will just be a little theatrical gem for us in the East to tell you all about.

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Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenComing next, I’ll have articles about how water is wet, and an exclusive reveal of just what bears are getting up to in forested areas so I can have equally shocking headlines for you.

As you’ll probably know, I’ve been doing my spreadsheet of the gender breakdown of Have I Got News For You guests which paints a pretty bad picture of how women are under-represented on the show, given that they’re not 23% of the population. Thanks to someone on Twitter bringing us together, I’ve now met Stuart of @astronomyblog who’s been looking at how women are represented on other panel shows.

The figures, as you might expect, don’t make for any prettier reading. In fact, they’re uglier than mine because I was looking solely at guests, excluding the regulars. When you include Paul, Ian and Angus’s appearances as well, only approximately 12.8% of the people on screen have been female. Stuart does use a different methodology to me, going to IMDB’s list of appearances, but it appears to deliver similar results from a different direction) The show that actually does best with this approach is ITV2’s Celebrity Juice, getting up to 44.2% of appearances by women, which is impressive compared to the others, but from what I can tell, it’s a show where at least 50% of the regulars are women, so even with that head start, it still manages to fall short.

Not a very good picture all round, really, but I’ll still be monitoring HIGNFY, which has shown some signs that it might be looking to address this trend – representation on series 48 is hovering around parity, and there have been more women hosting shows in it than men so far, but it’s started well and fallen back before, so judgement can wait until December.

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Have_I_Got_News_For_You_titlescreenHave I Got News For You has been on the air for twenty-four years, and last night it managed to do something it’s never done before. For the first time ever last night, the majority of people on screen for an episode of the show were women – Victoria Coren Mitchell as the host, and Katherine Ryan and Janet Street-Porter as the guests, alongside regulars Ian Hislop and Paul Merton. As I’m here to write this today, it appears the sky didn’t crack asunder and the world did not come to an end as a result.

As some of you will know, I’ve got a spreadsheet of the gender breakdown of guests on the show since it started (created mostly with the help of this Wikipedia page) and it’s usually been pretty grim reading.

Across the history of the show, less than a quarter of the guests (24.27%) and hosts (24.65%) have been women. During that time, there have been 8 shows (including last night) where all the guests were women, but the first seven were all from the period when Angus Deayton was the show’s permanent host and thus men were still a majority on screen. The last of those seven was in 1997. For comparison, there have been 181 shows (44% of the total) where all the guests were male, and thus everyone on screen was a male. The BBC has announced that there will be no more all-male panel shows, so this percentage will drop, but the fact it happened at all is ridiculous. Consider that in the time since the last show with all-female guests, there were over 100 all-male episodes of Have I Got News For You, and think what message that sends out to anyone watching.

Hopefully, last night is a sign that attitudes are changing, though I also fear that for years to come they’ll bring up the ‘all-woman’ show as an excuse for not doing it again for several years. This series might be the one that has the highest percentage of female guests on the show, a record which currently stands at 37.5%. The trouble for anyone hoping for progress is that that record was set back in the very first series of the show, and it’s failed to reach that mark in the 46 series since.

The current series is actually at parity for the four episodes broadcast so far – and there have actually been a majority of female hosts in those episodes – so who knows, it might finally be possible for a high-profile BBC series to almost accurately reflect the nation. (If we assume that 40% of the country are Paul Merton and Ian Hislop, of course…)

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Nick Robinson of the BBC demonstrates the self-awareness that he’s famous for:


Yes, Westminster’s style of politics is entirely the fault of MPs. Absolutely none of the problems with the politics in our country come from the media’s insistence on treating it all as a game or a Punch and Judy show of mutual loathing and shouting. That political journalism frequently eliminates any nuance in order to drive forward the narrative it has determined the story must be about has no bearing on the way people regard politics. There is absolutely no symbiotic relationship between a media desperate to fill air time cheaply and a political class who are desperate to appear on air as much as possible.

I’m glad Nick Robinson has made that clear.

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Via Jonathan Calder, the words of a Telegraph ‘political commentator’:

For very good reasons, Britain’s political parties do not campaign on election day.

This will likely confuse all of you reading this who are involved in politics, though I’m sure we’ll all be glad to know that we get polling day off after those long campaigns. All that getting up at 5am to deliver the first leaflet of the day, followed by hours of knocking on doors and more delivery must just have been a recurring bad dream I had every May.

Or it may just be that we don’t understand what campaigning is. Iain Martin, the journalist who wrote those words, got into a conversation with Lib Dem activist Chris Lovell last night, appears to think campaigning consists of just rallies and speeches and anything else is just “people with clipboards driving voters to polling stations”.

But then, is that all most journalists see of political campaigns? Most journalists writing about politics have never had any direct experience of it or involvement with it, and their job consists of going where the parties tell them to go to and working out which spin doctor’s stories they’re going to pay the most attention to when they write their stories. For them, political campaigns are a mix of media stunts, rallies and Important Speeches by Important People where the only role of party members and activists is to make up a useful backdrop and make sure they hold the placards the right way up. As none of this happens on polling day and journalists don’t have any invites to anything until the counting starts, it’s easy to make the assumption that there’s no campaigning going on.

Whereas most activists will tell you that polling day is the most important and busiest of the campaigning. The reason everyone looks hollow-eyed at the count is because they’ve been up since the early hours of the morning (assuming they got any sleep at all) and subsisting on whatever food they can grab. The big campaign events may not be happening – because they won’t get any coverage in the media – but all the other parts of campaigning are going at full tilt.

For a journalist – and specifically one credited as a political commentator – to claim that there’s no campaigning on polling day reveals just how shallow most coverage of politics is. Campaigns are like icebergs – there’s a very visible part on the surface, but a whole lot more happening beneath that. Journalists used to know this, but now they’re so dazzled by the bit on the surface, they imagine there’s nothing going on underneath.

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