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TV Book Club – Episode 1

What worked and what didn’t work?

There were some viewers this programme was bound to attract: existing avid readers.  Many of these have book blogs and are also on twitter.  Immediately after the programme the consensus of opinion on twitter was that the programme was disappointing.  Most cited the lack of time devoted to the week’s selected book.  Indeed, having watched the episode online twice, the balance was as follows:

Discussion with guest Chris Evans about his book 8.5 mins
Cecelia Ahearne revisited  1.5 mins
Wordplay based on a book & a comedian 3.5 mins
Sarah Waters film 3 mins
Discussion on Sarah Waters’s novel 3.5 mins

Running at 24 minutes long, we had 20 minutes of actual input.  With a featured book per week, and with a marketing campaign at Waterstone’s, you’d expect the book to be main feature of the episode, not the curve ball guest author.  But Chris Evans scooped the lion’s share with Waters having 6.5 minutes overall, of which a paltry 3.5 minutes was spent on studio discussion of the book.  Our TV Book Club members even managed to go off-piste at one point, in relation to Nathaniel Parker’s relationship with a thermos and hot water bottle.  Waters was ill-served and not just on that level.

When it came to content, for a book described as a “best read”, no one was particularly enthusiastic.  Gok Wan thought it had a slow start, before Parker cut in with an opposite view.  He was immediately drawn in but felt the book flagged later.  (At this point Wan’s face was wan indeed, screaming only “Oh dear, did I get that wrong?” as he waited on Parker’s every further word.)  But when the discussion came to an abrupt halt, Jo Brand managed to travel a full circle worthy of the design feat that is Swindon’s magic roundabout when summing up.  “So, are we agreed that it’s a good read?”  Well yes they did agree on that as it happens.

I felt a lack of coherence for this entire section.  It would have been helpful to have a more comprehensive introduction to the plot of the book. 

Contributions from the sofa varied greatly.  If the programme continues with this format, it could easily lose at least one guest as there’s simply not enough time granted, albeit that 3.5 minute slot really ought to be longer so that the programme can better meet what it says on the label.  It’s a sad day when one on the sofa can contribute mainly and only “Did you?” and “Did you really?” plus one comment on one character in the novel. (Laila Rouass, who was introduced at the start as the one to provide glamour.  It’s a book show; glamour is not required.)

Overall, the programme needs an injection of energy, life and enthusiasm.  Part of the problem here stems from reliance on author slots that are simply the author speaking to camera.  This can be a drone and some lively interactive interviewing of the authors would be more interesting.

I am not sure if the Mark Watson slot on unusual words was the first of a weekly plant of light humour, but it did not work for me.  It felt contrived, both in the field and back in the studio.  How good it would be to take the cameras outside and find enthusiastic readers to talk to, and to go outside London.  And poor, poor Watson, for he had his work cut out.  When did they shoot at Spitalfields Market?  Christmas morning?  Is was almost completely devoid of pedestrian traffic.

A programme on books and reading has an obvious link to literacy.  Thus it was disappointing to hear that Wan had been diverted en route to the studio with a visit to the Alesha Dixon School of Dialogue.  He said to Chris Evans, “I knew who you was, obviously”.  Having said that, Wan did make a decent contribution and it belied his “I’m still learning” response to the question of whether he liked reading in the introductions.  But this indicative of another problem with the series; what is the target audience?  Such a response is warm and welcoming to a new reader, but will such people be tuning in?  (To an avid reader the response is groan-inducing.)

This week’s special guest was Chris Evans and next week’s is Alan Davies.  I hope this is not setting a trend for an ongoing first half of “celebs” plugging their own books until the series ends.

To me the show appeared to want to replicate a book club in action, as if you’ve just walked in on one, but on screen.  Hence the friendly waving to camera, I presume.  I’d prefer more professional presentation.

I will be watching next week (having read the featured novel), but, in conclusion, I feel the programme would benefit from:

  • Less obsession with celebrity.
  • More interactive interviewing.
  • A whole half show based on the featured book.
  • Chats with enthusiastic readers – get into real book clubs (as on R&J), libraries, bookshops (and support the indies a bit, while at it).
  • Utilise the online forum for feedback comments into the series (as I suspect may be on the cards).

Notes: do visit the site's forum to leave comments. (To date only the administrators have commented there.)

Other comments on the TV Book Club can be found at:

Farm Lane Books

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Lizzy's Literary Life


Savidge Reads

The programme can be viewed on YouTube here.


13 comments on “TV Book Club – Episode 1

  1. HazelKLarkin
    January 18, 2010

    Great post! There were a lot of negative tweets last night and I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to give nearly half an hour of my life to something I wouldn’t enjoy. I think I’ll watch it once and see if I can bear to make it a regular date. 🙂

  2. Mar
    January 18, 2010

    Again, I agree with your feedback. I’m hopeful though that they will listen to some of the comments and re-format the show to enhance & highlight the book of the week. There seemed to be a total lack of focus throughout, which fine, we don’t want a show with a script but staying on topic would be nice.
    Please Channel 4, listen to the viewers and book readers. We WANT this show to do well. We want this show as it helps promote books and reading. But we can’t defend something that has no substance.

  3. Dan Calladine
    January 18, 2010

    Really interesting comments.
    I saw it on SkyPlus, having read lots of negative stuff on twitter first, so had low expectations. As it turned out I didn’t think that it was as much of a car crash as it could have been.
    My main thoughts were:
    1 – The panel was picked by committee, with someone to appeal to all demographics rather than people who were actually passionate about books. Were any of them actually members of a book group in ‘real life’? No, I don’t think so.
    I had thought, from the pre-publicity, that each would present a couple of shows, not sit around together each week like in Loose Women.
    2 – The Chris Evans bit was frustrating, as it was just a blatant plug for his book, but then when it came to the discussion at the end he was far more interesting than about 3 of the regulars on the panel. I’m assuming that Alan Davies will also do the same next week.
    3 – The Mark Watson bit was terrible. I really like Mark Watson, but sorry, it was terrible.
    4 – I hope that they haven’t all been filmed already (although I suspect they have) because they need to chop and change the show a bit.
    5 – Having said that I’ll keep watching, but fast forward through the bad bits.

  4. sarah broadhurst
    January 18, 2010

    just seen the programme and i was disapppointed. more time should have been spent on the actual book under review, not the guest’s book. there were also too many people on the panel – and jo brands glasses annoyed me as they looked like they were wonky on her face.
    hope next weeks book club prog is better

  5. Sarah Prior
    January 18, 2010

    Excellent post Rhian, we’ve just added it to ours over on BR. Let’s hope the programme makers sit up and take notice, would be such a shame to waste one of the very few book programmes on TV.

  6. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    January 18, 2010

    Great post! I agree with Dan – I was surprised to see so many of them sitting together. I thought there were far too many – especially given the tiny time slot. I think it would have worked much better if there had only been 3 or 4 people in the studio discussing the book.

  7. Clare D
    January 18, 2010

    Excellent post! Seriously, CFR, I think the Book Club should hire you as consultant…!

  8. crimeficreader
    January 18, 2010

    Hazel, thanks for your comment. I’d give it a go and expect it to improve by week 3, but don’t expect brilliance. If doesn’t improve for me by week 3, I shall only watch in future to see specific guests if I am interested.

  9. crimeficreader
    January 18, 2010

    Mar you are spot on when you say “We WANT this show to do well.” So many do. Sadly it needs tweaking, but this is possible and I hope they take the comments on board; there are so many of them flying across the internet. It is entirely possible they could lose the most obvious captured audience if they don’t.

  10. crimeficreader
    January 18, 2010

    Dan, thanks for leaving a comment. Like you, I originally thought that it might be each presenting a couple of shows. However, I believe the chosen format is better albeit trying to cram as much as in as they do, we have too many people on the sofas.

  11. crimeficreader
    January 18, 2010

    Sarah, Sarah, Jackie and Clare, thanks for your comments.

  12. kimbofo
    January 19, 2010

    Great post — I like your constructive criticism. I thought the show was rubbish and doubt I’ll watch it again.
    There’s quite a lot of comments on the Channel 4 site rather than the “official” TV book club site/forum:

  13. cfr
    January 19, 2010

    Thanks Kim. I’ll take another look at the site. Bookbrunch ran an article yesterday saying there were 33 comments at the time of writing, but I couldn’t find them. It will make for an interesting read!

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This entry was posted on January 18, 2010 by in Author News, Television.