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).
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