This week Wifey has been drawn into a programme on ITV about Beluga whales. Of course it’s not really about Beluga whales, it’s about John Bishop, because why else would you think of Beluga whales? If it was really about Beluga whales then it could be presented by me, or you, or indeed anyone else who didn’t have a groaning dislike of the creatures. I have nothing against Beluga whales, apart from the fact they look a bit thick, though with a few exceptions that’s never been a crime. I have never had a parking spot pinched by a Beluga whale. I have never had my bank account hacked or been attacked on the street by one. I’ve never come back from a pub toilet to find one trying to chat Wifey up, and I’ve never had one bother me to help fill in their passport application form. I bear no Beluga whale ill will, but that said I have no burning desire to swim with one either; they may look all friendly and so on, but just like the time I went pony trekking as a child you can guarantee I’d get the Beluga that could smell my fear an ocean away and then act accordingly. Also, I’m not John Bishop, just in case you thought I was.
The problem here is that if I made a documentary for ITV about saving a couple of Beluga whales in captivity in China and then getting them shipped off (cheaper to let them swim, I know) to Iceland to be reintroduced to the sea (and doubtless a pod of killer whales lurking behind the next wave) then almost nobody would watch it. Correction, nobody would watch it. Even if all the Beluga whale fanatics worldwide tuned in it still wouldn’t be worth ITV putting it out on primetime. But slap a funny man like John Bishop in front of it and suddenly everyone’s interested. Of course it is a given that you could never make it up. You would never expect to just walk into the offices at ITV or any other media outlet and pitch “Lion Taming with Sir Chris Hoy” or “Mastering Fratricide with Jedward” and expect a positive response, but if John Bishop suggests farting around with a couple of overgrown, grinning, swimming pillows then that’s given the green light without a second thought. Ho-hum.
In the end it’s a mutually satisfying arrangement. More people watch it because they think John Bishop is funny, or like me just remember a time when John Bishop really was funny, and so ITV get the viewers they need to make money and John Bishop also makes money because he’s oiled them up and ready for his new Beluga whale saving related stand up routine. At least John Bishop is likeable, which is more than can be said for Sue Perkins. Quite how she made things work for herself is a substantial mystery. With her giggle-gal-pal Mel things seemed so much easier to swallow (and funnier) but on her own the jokes and pretend concern seem to choke and gasp for breath and she has to fall back on silence and gurning. That said I never realised until recently that Perkins is an expert on the Texas/Mexico border. I mean, she must be an expert because why else would anyone come up with ‘Sue Perkins: Along The US Mexico Border’? I could have sat for years trying to match celebrities and topics and never seen that one coming. ‘John Bishop’s Great Whale Rescue’ makes much more sense, but at the same time not much sense at all.
We must look at the positives and the possibilities; the doors that peculiar pairings such as these open when they should really slam firmly shut. Perhaps TV has got to the stage where there are so few good new ideas that they really will take any idea at all. You may recall an episode of ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, where in his total desperation for a second series with the BBC he half dreams up some pitches for new programmes – “Arm Wrestling with Chas and Dave”, “Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank” etc. Well, now that has become some kind of a reality surely by logic must anything go? ‘Crazy Golf with Vladimir Putin’, ‘Snuff Movies with Gemma Collins’, ‘Discovering Bradford with Tommy Robinson’ or ‘The Ultimate Pool Party with Michael Barrymore’? Try it for yourself and sooner or later you’ll come up with a suggestion that, no matter how bizarre or inappropriate it might seem, could on a wild card day just about scrape itself onto TV and find an audience. Years ago such diversity was a virtue, now it is a tragedy. One day any of us might dream up a killer idea to keep us all distracted but until then I’m going to try and avoid limp celebrity/vague interest TV specials. Until then I’d rather be like those Beluga whales and take my chances with the orcas. Or just hope Netflix has got something better to offer.
G B Hewitt. 14.10.2020