Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Broken Mould

BBC2 had a cheek calling 'Broken News' "groundbreaking comedy" when their own channel had set the benchmark for spoof news programmes many years ago with 'The Day Today'.
Broken News was beautifully made and brilliantly performed. The fictional news channels were almost indistinguishable from the real thing. It just wasn't very funny.

You wouldn't be able to explain why it didn't quite work unless you had seen The Day Today. I think the root of the problem is that accurate impersonation on its own is not enough. The Day Today took the style of news progammes and then stretched both the techniques and the content to the point of absurdity.
In a similar way, impressionists like Rory Bremner don't just rely on the accuracy of their impersonations. Tony Blair's "I say to you" becomes "I say unto you"; Ian Duncan Smith became Caspar the Friendly Ghost; Michael Howard ended up biting Kirsty Wark's neck.
The Day Today's opening titles took the cliché of a spinning globe and in a brilliant reductio ad absurdam had it mutating into every conceivable object. I could watch that opening title sequence all day.
At the closing credits the studio lights dimmed and the camera pulled right back. In the gloom the observant viewer could see Chris Morris's Paxmanesque anchor man on one occasion sticking a syringe in his arm and on another pulling off a wig to reveal cascades of shoulder length hair.

All that Broken News did was to draw attention to the current clichés of television news - like the 'Standing News' where presenters walk around in front of video walls - but a lot of us already laugh at the real thing. A comedy spoof needs a lot more comic business to be effective.

That said, I give the performers full marks for so perfectly capturing the idiosyncratic diction of news presenters which bears no relation to normal speech.
And their regional news programme, 'Look Out East', was a delight. I've never understood why regional news programmes have to do that ersatz, cosy chumminess, both with the viewer and in the banter between the presenters, when national news programmes don't. The only trick they missed was that regional news programmes never identify the location of the story until the last possible moment. So the headlines go:
"Coming Up: binge-drinking crackdown in East town.......the East postman who's biting back at dog owners......and the East pensioner bidding to become a skateboarding champion."
This is because if you look at the areas covered by the regional news programmes, many of them bear no relation to any other regional area and a spurious identity has to be created. This may be because the television region is dictated by the reach of transmitters. But this may soon become an historical curiosity because the BBC is to experiment with local broadband news that is focused on specific towns or even villages.

I was inclined to blame myself for not enjoying Broken News more. But then I found the Observer's preview had said "When it comes to news spoofs on British television, no one has ever come close to the antics of Chris Morris and his team on The Day Today. It may be a harsh comparison but newcomer Broken News just doesn't compare. In fact, it's not even a close third to Drop The Dead Donkey in second place."

Happily, The Day Today is now available on DVD. I really must get a copy before my VHS tape of the programme wears out from over-use.


At 10:34 AM, Blogger cello said...

Willie, I have just tried to make the same points - in a much less elegant and amusing way - over on the Channel 4 Comedy Forum in a long rambling comment. But, thankfully now, it didn't post, and I couldn't be arsed to repeat it.

The real news is a total parody of itself. Only this morning, BBC Breakfast used many of the techniques satirised in an item about silent phone calls. It could easily have been lifted from the show.

However, I did love Look East and the IBS bits and Benedict Cumberpatch. And I know two of the actors in it, one rather intimately. Though that was a long time ago now.

At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Nik said...

It's worried me for the last 10 years that The Day Today still works as a news parody. News programmes just haven't learned from it, which makes them look even more stupid. They could have just repeated TDT and have done with it.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger patroclus said...

I didn't see Broken News, but from the sounds of your post, Willie, it sounds like it suffers from the same problem as Look Around You did - i.e. that a lovingly created pastiche just isn't enough to be funny.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger patroclus said...

PS and crikey, cello. More detail is absolutely required.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

cello, I stopped going to that forum when I started blogging but must pop back sometime and give you a roughing up.

There was a weather forecast recently where, at the end, the camera remained live due to a technical fault. The forecaster kept smiling for about 20 seconds and then started furtively glancing at the monitor. It lasted for ages and was wonderful. I saw this done as a gag in a film many years ago but had never seen it happen for real. Much funnier than anything in Broken News.

nik: it worries me too. And amazes me because everyone in TV saw Day Today.

patroclus: I feel mean criticising it because so much effort went into it.
In a similar way, some people think that because some humour is surreal, anything surreal is funny. But it isn't.
As you say, parody on its own, however brilliant, isn't usually enough.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous robin said...

Quite amusing and got better through the show, I thought. News is about words and the words were well considered. But certainly no ground broken there. Agree about Look Around You, but it was better than that.

And miles better than Blessed, which I think is the feeblest thing I've seen on telly for years.

At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The bar in fake or comedy news has been set by John Stewart of The Daily Show (shown on comedy central here in the US).
Having crossed the pond 5 years ago to discover a notable absence of satire, I found it hard to believe I was in the land that claims to own free speech.

I eventually discoverd the Daily Show. Stewart is a genius at pointing out the absurdity of this administration and it's policies. So much so that his 'Fake' news show contains more facts than an hour of CNN can ever deliver you. On top of that it's also hilarious!

I understand C4 have licensed it for the UK, keep your eyes out for it.


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