Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Night Network

Trawling through the archives from "Thinks!", the Channel Island Mensa Magazine, I came across this review of the early night time broadcast on ITV, called "Night Network". This was ITV's first major experiment into the area of overnight broadcasting, and started in 1987, but only came to Jersey during early 1988.

It was written by my curmudgeonly character "Gideon Fell", a kind of bombastic cross between G.K. Chesterton and Victor Meldrew (although Meldrew was not to grace our screens until 1990), and based on the character of "Dr Gideon Fell" who featured in the locked room mysteries of John Dickson Carr. Fell (in the pages of the Mensa magazine), was a very grumpy old man.

Incidentally, I think I was being very unfair to Nicholas Parsons, who I think actually is a very talented actor and performer, and I still marvel at the way he keeps track and chairs his sometimes unruly panel in "Just A Minute" on Radio 4.

Night Network
Contributed by Gideon Fell
(from "Thinks!", March 1988)

As those who peruse the television schedules will have noticed, towards the end of last year television at weekends became almost a complete twenty-four hour run - the gap in the schedules between midnight and four o'clock was filled by a package of programmes loosely connected under the umbrella title of Night Network.

The other night, I was troubled by insomnia which resulted from an increasingly painful sore throat, which was the preliminary stage in what was to become a full scale dose of influenza; as I was unable to sleep, and could not concentrate sufficiently to read, I thought I might pass the time profitably by doing a little research on this new area of television programming.

Night Network is described as a magazine format type of programme, aimed at the teenage/young adult market. It is certainly a very amateur piece of television and uses an antique method of caption slides to introduce its presenters --they are completely blotted out by a black screen onto which their name is projected - much like the old silent films. In between these moments of black void are a rapid selection of second-rate music videos, a chat show in a bed (for this is the night), re-runs of old puppet shows like Captain Scarlett and even a quiz show grandly entitled The All New Alpha Bet Show, My memory must be fading, because I certainly cannot remember the old Alpha Bet Show before, it picked up the unusual appellation of "all new". It is interesting to note that this features Nicholas Parsons and therefore would seem to function as something of an elephant's graveyard for old television quiz show hosts.

This is television largely without violence, sex, drama or anything other than a rather bland collection of disparate images, none of which remain in the mind for longer than they are on the screen. Mary Whitehouse would find little to complain about here, because the programme is so innocuous in her terms; others may well regard it as symptomatic of a very illiterate culture in which image has replaced reality, and where the little content which remains is being easily obliterated by the gimmicks.

The gimmicks themselves are considered by the programme makers to be stylistic innovations. The use of caption slides as already mention is one such supposed innovation; another is the use of odd camera angles which bear no relation to the people speaking and are in no way integral to presentation - rather they detract from it. One has only to compare, for example, the innovations of Welles' Citizen Kane, superbly integrated with the story, to see how far behind these gimmicks are, with a random and pointless tilt and swivel of the camera.

The idea behind such television is that it appeals to the supposedly short attention span of modern youth. Now admittedly I. am not young, but as my throat became the texture of sandpaper, and my lungs began to wheeze, my attention span was very short. However, it failed to appeal to me. Indeed, the only area with any life was the dramatic puppetry of Captain Scarlett. Furthermore, I am sceptical about the patronising way in which television undervalues modern youth, producing programmes of very low quality that demand nothing of the viewer.

In conclusion, I would issue a warning. If you are ever in similar circumstances, don't he tempted to watch Night Network: it could seriously damage your brain!


For those who are interested, here are a few details about "The All New Alphabet Game": Linda Lusardi used to be a model appearing on Page 3 of the Sun, and "Kid" Jensen was a boyish looking DJ. Both were cutting edge down-market popular at the time!

Very low budget show billed as a "new, hip spoof quiz" in the advance publicity. Parsons, now sans Sale of the Century, saw it as part of his comeback to television. Although it only lasted for a few months, it helped ITV's Night Network punch through to a different kind of audience. In a kitsch pastiche of a typical quiz show, two teams of two celebrities (Linda Lusardi, David 'Kid' Jensen - that kind of thing) answer questions that are related to letters of the alphabet, kind of in the Blockbusters style except that it represented the first letter of the subject matter, not the answer. The 26 questions cards were marked with points values from 5 to 25, although there was no obvious correlation between the question difficulty and the points value. Teams began with 100 points and gained/lost that many points for correct/incorrect answer. They could also gamble at one point to double their score, or throw questions over to the other team.

Some questions had VT clips, leading to the intriguing juxtaposition of Nicholas Parsons introducing Beastie Boys videos.  Astonishingly, although it appeared to be live the whole thing was actually played in on tape. However, a tight recording schedule of six shows a day meant that any flubs had to be covered by Parsons adlibbing madly rather than doing a retake. The studio audience consisted of crowd noise, deliberately played in from tape. Quite often the director would play in a random noise - like a crowd of dogs barking - and Parsons would ad lib about beaming live from Crufts. Nicholas Parsons named his game show character "Mr Jolly". Apparently there were fan clubs dedicated to him.

1 comment:

Ian Evans said...

Stuart Syvret, JAILED for caring.