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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Remainder is a study of repetition - but a fresh study of repetition

This story of memory loss shows how meaning accrues through duplication. Plus: Ma Ma reviewed.

The video artist Omer Fast specialises in reconstructions with a twist. One of his art pieces, featuring interviews with Polish extras from Schindler’s List, demonstrated how history and memory can be overwritten by film, while another imagined a grieving couple who hire actors to play their dead son. His knack for destabilising truth and authenticity make him the perfect director for the psychological thriller Remainder.

The film itself is a facsimile of sorts, having been adapted by Fast from the 2005 novel by Tom McCarthy, though the director has fashioned a dazzling new ending that lends the tale some topspin. Given Fast’s preoccupation with mirror images, it must have given him a little buzz to cast as McCarthy’s hero Tom yet another Tom – the posh, pale string bean Tom Sturridge, who looks haunted enough to spook a ghost.

It’s only right that Remainder, as a study of how human beings find meaning through repetition and duplication, should wear its influences plainly. There’s a touch of Memento to this story of a young man whose memory is almost completely wiped after he is struck by machinery falling from the sky. He plugs the gaps by using his ­multimillion-pound payout to fund the meticulous restaging of his tattered memories – a throwback to Synecdoche, New York, in which a theatre director mounts a scale version of his own life, casting actors to play himself and everyone he knows.

The first 20 minutes of Remainder are ponderous, but once Tom begins to snap out of his daze the film wakes up, too. He hires a fixer, Naz (Arsher Ali), to help realise his berserk plan of reconstructing a particular block of flats in south London and its attendant details. Everything has to be just so, from the cats on a neighbouring rooftop to the smell (fried liver) and sounds (Chopin) drifting up the stairs. Through these details, he hopes to rediscover his lost identity.

Fast’s spick-and-span visual style uses images that could have come from an ­estate agent’s brochure to underline the film’s satirical points about gentrification, while also finding room for artfully blurred areas within the frame that hint at unreachable memories. Violence keeps creeping in, ­administered by everything from Tasers to paper clips, until the very reconstructions become irrevocably bloody.

For all its sophistication, Remainder never stops being fun, its combination of arch wit and formalist neatness suggesting an ­urban Peter Greenaway. Sturridge gives a performance of delicate comic control as a man who becomes the director of his own life in order to understand it. As Tom auditions people to play his neighbours, specifying exactly when they should put out the rubbish and even what they should be thinking about, you feel that the great perfectionist Stanley Kubrick must be smiling down on him and saying: “Attaboy.”

Kubrick’s imprimatur was highly prized, so it is no small matter that he expressed admiration for Julio Medem’s creepy 1993 mystery, The Red Squirrel. The only mystery about Medem’s new film, Ma Ma, is how a once-fascinating director could have made something so devoid of fibre or personality. This star vehicle for Penélope Cruz exposes her physically in the first scene, in which she undergoes a mammogram, but never scratches her blandly beneficent ­veneer. As Magda, a single mother diagnosed with breast cancer, she suffers nobly and even cracks jokes on the operating table. Nothing is more boring in a character than perfection.

The attention lavished on her leaves the rest of Ma Ma looking undernourished. Parts of the script appear to be unfinished. Magda finds love with a soccer scout who has no trouble getting over the wife and child he lost in an accident; a mere week ­after they’ve perished, he’s sunning himself on holiday. By the time Magda’s doctor pops up on the sand to carry her into the sea for an impromptu examination (well, it’s certainly one way to reduce hospital waiting times) any pretence of realism has been sacrificed. In its place are New Age dream sequences and a depiction of terminal illness that makes Beaches look like a documentary. 

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 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain