It’s hard to hate ITV these days. For decades the ‘opposition’ channel was a major player in the world of British entertainment, but in recent years it has become dwarfed by the twin suns of BBC and Channel 4 and seen its audience share obliterated by the arrival of satellite and cable TV.
A few years ago, maybe, I would have been frothing at the very mention of the substandard broadcasting taking place across their airwaves, but these days it feels a little like kicking a dying dog when he’s down. You have to feel sorry for ITV – they’re trapped in a funding black hole with little or no creativity at the top, the public and critics alike largely deride their programmes and they’ve been forced to dedicate over a quarter of their daily output to extortion thinly disguised as a quiz show in a desperate attempt to replace the falling advertising revenue.
Rather than cultivate talent, they lure away established stars with big money offers and then place them in wafer thin vehicles. The offer of a solo vehicle on ITV now spells the death knell of a career, but with a big paycheque first. Those few who do survive, the Ant and Dec’s of the world, are then kept in repetitive positions, churning out the same style of entertainment lest the fragile audience balk at something fresh.
What is most telling, though, about ITV’s lost chance to be a major network competitor is their ability to poach, steal and imitate successful formats, and the subsequent failures of these attempts. Rather than lead the pack, they follow humbly snapping up the crumbs in a hope of tasting some success. If this was a cold, calculated business plan then there would real cause for concern, but it’s not. ITV are near dead in the water, hanging on a with a combination of soaps and gambling shows and their imitation of other channels formats is more a desperate attempt to survive than anything more machiavellian.
Which brings us nicely to Goldenballs, ITV’s new afternoon game show. The inclusion of the word ‘balls’ is both deliberate and appropriate, no doubt intending to be risqué and tongue in cheek but ending up as an admission of inherent crapness. The show should have been called ‘Greenballs’ such is the amount of jealousy on display over the success of a certain Channel 4 game show that uses boxes, and the format is a very badly disguised rewrite of said show.
First off, Goldenballs begins immediately after Deal or No Deal so as to pick up viewers still hungry for shape related games, and features a former has-been presenter given the comeback job of a lifetime. In place of comfort-beard Edmonds we have the hawk-nosed Jasper Carrott, still peddling 20-year-old lines and visibly struggling with the sole direction of “try and make it tense.” Goldenballs also attempts to give us some investment in the personalities of the contestants, but where Deal skilfully let’s their characters be stage-managed by Edmonds, ITV simply relies on the natural showbiz flare of their entrants. Put simply, showbiz flare is not something typically contained within people who apply to be on a Jasper Carrott fronted game show and there are often moments of cringe-inducing silence.
The rules of the game are inexplicable, and the show has definitely spawned from the title downwards. Having already had a failure that played before Deal using Nicky Campbell and some rods, some quick-thinking commissioner concluded that they had chosen the wrong shape and shifted it to balls, rather than boxes and rods, and the game was created from there. It involves a pair of legs issuing balls of money to four people, who then lie to each other about how much is contained within them and then voting each other off because of the lies. Then some more balls appear, the audience turn off and one of the contestants fails to get more than a couple of hundred quid…
Everything about the programme is wrong; it lacks any amount of tension, understandable rules or personable contestants. It has no flow and is demonstratably contrived, both in conception and production and the editing in particular robs the show of any drama or charm. Jasper Carrott is a great choice on paper, but his recycled material and lack of gravitas just makes his performance a little pitiful.
I would be far more withering towards this show if I felt it deserved it, but it’s simply another insignificant glitch in the slow downfall of a nationwide broadcaster. To tear this programme apart more savagely would to give it a status beyond what it deserves – in a matter of weeks it will slip quietly away and ITV will debut a new show featuring cash ovals hosted by Shane Richie. Goldenballs is indicative of the piss-poor programming and, if you’ll forgive the pun, total lack of balls that exists at ITV these days.
It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. It’s just bad.