So, farewell then, 10 O'Clock Live

Even though I liked it, I have to admit it was a flop. But why did it fail?

Do you remember the heady days of January, when every billboard in the country was graced by the beatific smiles of Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell, Lauren Laverne and Jimmy Carr?

Back then, 10 O'Clock Live was Channel 4's white-hot hope. How could it go wrong? Four well-loved television personalities, each bringing along a pre-existing fanbase. A Tory-led government to boo at. The full might of the Channel 4 PR machine. Hell, More 4 even scrapped its nightly broadcast of The Daily Show so there was no stablemate to overshadow it (probably).

Despite all this, we have to conclude that 10 O'Clock Live, which ended its run last Thursday, was a flop. The programme which inspired it, the Alternative Election Night, attracted 1.4 million viewers. By its eighth show, 10OCL, as I've arbitrarily decided to call it now to save wear and tear on my typing finger, attracted 631,900 viewers (a 4 per cent audience share). There has been a conspicious lack of chatter about a second season.

What went wrong? Here are five answers.

1. Overhype

As I pointed out here, The Daily Show (my benchmark for a good satirical show) was rubbish for years. Jon Stewart's been doing his thing there for more than a decade now, so it's no wonder that he's got it down to a fine art.

10OCL, on the other hand, was given the poisoned chalice of wall-to-wall publicity in the weeks before its launch. Yes, they did several non-broadcast pilots, but that's very different from the real thing.

As CNN found to their cost when they tried a similar strategy for the launch of Piers Morgan's chatshow, whipping up this kind of hysteria means that anything less than the televisual Second Coming will feel like a disappointment.

2. The Twitter backlash

The producers had clearly read the Big Book of Social Media Publicity, too, because they decided early on to pitch for the show as a Twitter "event", complete with its own hashtag.

But -- and I don't mean to shock anyone here -- Twitter can be quite mean. In fact, one of its less winning qualities is its capacity to turn into an extended kick-a-thon for anything the hivemind finds wanting.

The instavitriol hobbled the show, giving many people I follow the feeling that judgement had been passed, and there was no need to return for future episodes (which improved dramatically).

3. The Question Time switch-off

The show's audience was presumably intended to be politically engaged youngish people, the kind who read Mitchell or Brooker's newspaper columns and might conceivably care about AV. But those people were already watching something made for them on a Thursday night: Question Time.

It boggles my mind to say it, but QT is huge on Twitter, and attracts a much more varied audience than other political shows. By scheduling 10OCL against it, Channel 4 ensured that a decent chunk of their audience only ever watched the first half of the show, then flipped over to see who Kelvin McKenzie was shouting at this week.

4. Going Live

What, exactly, was the point of it being broadcast live? I hardly count myself as one of the yoof any more, but even I rarely watch TV programmes when they're scheduled.

To prove my point, it's worth noting that 10OCL did very good business on Channel 4's online viewing service, 4OD -- something the broadcaster itself wheeled out when questioned about the disappointing TV ratings.

As far I can see, broadcasting it live simply increased the potential for cock-ups, rogue camera swoops (there were usually a few of these per episode) and stilted filler chat.

All we'd have lost if it had been pre-recorded on a Thursday afternoon is the chance for Brooker and Mitchell to take the piss out of the first editions of the rightwing papers, but that's not exactly a scarce resource given that I seem to hear their opinions more often than my closest family's.

5. Bitesized

In my review of the first episode, I wrote: "Next week, I hope they'll focus less on cramming loads of stuff into the show and let their undeniably talented line-up go off the cuff a bit more." Unfortunately, it didn't really happen. There was always a dichotomy between the bits (Carr's monologue, Listen To Mitchell) which were the right length for the format, and those which felt hopelessly compressed.

The panel discussions, chaired by Mitchell, were the worst offenders: most degenerated into: "Soundbite. Soundbite. Angry counter-soundbite. Tension-easing gag by David Mitchell. Chortling by the crowd. The end." At least one of the three guests usually ended up hardly saying anything at all.

So, farewell, then

So there you have it. Of course, there were other annoyances -- I never got used to seeing the crowd in shot, smirking behind the presenter's left ear, and Jimmy Carr's dressing-up sketches ploughed such depths of tastelessness I'm surprised they didn't end up drenched in magma.

But what makes the show's failure so annoying is that it was, despite all this, good. There isn't much topical comedy on telly, and after this, I doubt any broadcaster will be splashing cash around to try to change that.

I don't feel too bad for the presenters (they're hardly stuck for work), or the producers (the show was backed by Endemol, where I imagine the printer uses £50 notes instead of A4 paper). I do feel bad for the writers, who must be wondering why they slaved over a hot script for 14 hours a day to general indifference, as a result of someone else's bad decisions.

Anyway, it's gone now. And I, for one, will miss it.

UPDATE: Just heard from the Channel 4 press office, who say: "The series has just finished and no decision on its future has been made. Contrary to rumour, it hasn't been cancelled." Hardly cause for optimism among fans, but I suppose there's still a glimmer of hope.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Final Portrait sketches Alberto Giacometti in the winter of his life

Giacometti’s life is glimpsed in revealing shards. 

The last time Geoffrey Rush was cooped up on screen in a tatty grey room with a well-spoken man, the result was The King’s Speech, not so much a film as a machine for winning Oscars. Final Portrait, in which Rush plays Alberto Giacometti during the weeks in 1964 that he spent drawing the writer James Lord (Armie Hammer), is a subtler, warmer piece that has few of the earlier one’s imploring, manipulative tendencies. Anyone familiar with movies about artists toiling over their canvases may be minded to bring a cushion to the cinema: Jacques Rivette’s La Belle Noiseuse ran for four hours, Victor Erice’s leisurely documentary The Quince Tree Sun for nearly two-and-a-half. At 90 minutes, Final Portrait is scarcely more than a doodle by comparison, but that briskness suits its philosophical points.

It begins with a casual request by Giacometti to Lord. Would he consider sitting for a portrait? It should only take a few hours at the artist’s studio in Paris. An afternoon at most. Arriving at the cluttered studio, Lord finds an artist whose idea of an ice-breaker is to tell him he has the head of a brute. He tries to remain chirpy even as Giacometti offers the first hint that the project may be doomed. “I’ll never be able to paint you as I see you,” he grumbles. “It’s impossible.”

The director Stanley Tucci (best known as an actor) exploits the satisfying tension between the reassuringly bland, preppy Hammer, and Rush, whose physical appearance suggests the broad strokes of a street artist’s caricature: cigarette poking from his mouth, ash-coloured curls, melted eyes. Though not strictly a two-hander – Clémence Poésy brings some fire as Giacometti’s muse, the prostitute Caroline, while Tony Shalhoub crinkles his face sympathetically as his brother Diego – the film’s faint drama percolates pleasingly during the face-offs between artist and sitter.

Giacometti’s life is glimpsed in revealing shards. His volatile marriage to Annette (Sylvie Testud) is observed by Lord, who witnesses also the dalliances with Caroline, but Tucci doesn’t try to explain these imbroglios. That applies also to the portrayal of Lord, on whose private life we eavesdrop in a series of snatched phone calls to an unseen partner as his stay in Paris is prolonged, first in daily increments and then weekly ones, by Giacometti’s demands. The film drops occasional hints about Lord’s sexuality but there is something refreshing about its refusal to make it his defining characteristic. Even as a potentially cloying odd-couple dynamic emerges between slick aesthete and irascible rogue, the movie hangs back. The emphasis changes from when the portrait will be finished to what Giacometti has to gain by deferring its completion. “It’s like he’s determined to remain completely unsatisfied,” Lord tells Diego. “Not completely,” he replies. “Perfectly.”

Tucci crowds the screen with sculpted heads that seem to be commenting silently on the action. No film that uses an accordion on the soundtrack to tell us we are in France, or a whooshing out-of-focus camera to signal intoxication, can be said to avoid the obvious, but in general this one errs on the side of understatement. Rather than insist upon the artist’s mortality, the picture instead shows him strolling with Lord through Père Lachaise cemetery, where the colour of his raincoat chimes precisely with the grey of the tombstones.

The subject of the movie, as the title suggests, is completion, and the idea that some things (a painting, a life) need to be taken away in order to be declared finished. Giacometti died 18 months after the action of the film occurs. Prolonging a portrait was a way of postponing disappointment, failure, death. We hear him remarking that he cannot pinpoint the moment at which a picture emerges, and something similar happens here, with a film of small lines and gestures adding up imperceptibly to a fine thumbnail sketch, if not quite a portrait. The words of the school teacher in Six Degrees of Separation spring to mind. Asked by a parent what her secret is for transforming her students into infant Matisses, she replies: “Secret? I don’t have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.” 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear