life at the

Live comedy and cabaret. Yeah, we’ve heard that before. Tom Lappin looks for something new at the Saturday Zoo.

A brief glance through the winter schedules is enough to convince any perceptive viewer that there’s no such thing as a new idea in British television. Even shows masquerading as brand new series are invariably revamps or remodels of tried and tested (or more often hackneyed and predictable) formats. If there were a Government award for recycling, TV producers would head the shortlist every time.

‘There are no hard and fast rules. It something’s working really well they’ll give it more space, it something’s not working they’re in a position where they can just drop it.’

Saturday Zoo, Channel 4’s new live variety programme, on the surface looks like no exception. It’s essentially live comedy, supplied by regulars from the cabaret scene, hosted by Jonathan Ross with a dash of the bizarre tossed in and a female house band supplying the music. Kind of Saturday Night Live meets The Last Resort via Paramount City. TV producers being TV producers though, Saturday Zoo’s Kenton Allen is giving the series the hard sell, promising a new and exciting addition to Saturday night viewing. ‘The show promises to be a TV event,’ he says, ‘and as much a part ofthe British television culture as Italian football.’

Without believing the hype, it must be admitted that Saturday Zoo’s biggest asset will be its presenter, Jonathan Ross, a man for whom the words ‘taste’ and ‘restraint‘ have no place in his personal lexicon. After several years slumming it coyly with an early evening audience he’s back in front of his natural constituency, the post-pub four-pack of lager crowd.

Unlike Ben Elton’s British Saturday Live, Saturday Zoo is closely modelled on the legendary American series that launched the careers of everybody from Dan Ayckroyd and John Belushi to those Wayne’s World nerds. So Ross is joined by a different showbiz celeb as co-host each week (Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley kicks off the first show), and a loose rep team of regular performers has been assembled. These include smoker with attitude Denis Leary, reformed slob Roland Rivron, surreal veteran cabaret singer and organist John Shuttleworth, and this year’s Perrier

Award winner Steve Coogan.

Steve Coogan. a regular at the Zoo.

Coogan has been commissioned for six shows, where he will be performing character-based sketches with Edinburgh partners John Thompson and Patrick Marber. ‘What they are trying to do is to get away from the Saturday Live feel of it just being a collection of people from the comedy circuit,‘ he explains. ‘That Ben Says Opportunity Knocks format as one person described it. They want more ofa regular team in the way the American programme worked, so you have these familiar faces who give it an image. There are no hard and fast rules. Ifsomething’s working really well they’ll give it more space, if something’s not working they’re in a position where they can just drop it.‘

‘Saturday Zoo’s biggest asset will be its presenter, Jonathan Ross, 3 man iorwhom the words ‘taste’ and ‘restraint’ have no place in his personal lexicon.’

Coogan emphasises the flexibility of the programme made possible by the live format, although he’s not so keen on the pressure enforced by having to get everything right first time. ‘It is daunting,‘ he admits. ‘but it gets your adrenalin going, it’s exciting despite being very nerve-wracking. It makes you pull your finger out when you realise you’ve got one chance. But its attractions outweigh the negative aspects, so I like it. I’m looking forward to it.’

Coogan has effected a rather radical U-turn in



Zoo keeper Jonathan Ross

his career. After starting out as a promising impressionist, his new work is essentially character-based. ‘Impressions are moribund as a comedy form,’ he says. ‘I found them useful as a way in, but it became an albatross around my neck, because I was regarded by a lot of pe0ple as a lightweight TV impressionist, and I thought I was better than that. I wanted to try to attain some kudos by performing character comedy that wasn’t just caricatured, but had a bit of depth to it. Sol turned down a lot of cheesy stuff on Des O’Connor, Marti Caine, Cannon And Ball.’

Saturday Zoo offers a somewhat hipper outlet for Coogan’s range of closely-observed characters. In a sense he’s filling the sort ofspace Harry Enfield occupied on Saturday Live. ‘No one likes comparisons because we all like to assert our own individuality,’ he says, ‘but yes you could say that. My characters differ from Harry Enfield’s in that his tend to be grotesques, and in that way they are superior in that they are more inmmediately accessible, but I like to think that what I do has a little bit more depth, a bit more pathos.’

One of his characterisations looks like bringing us full circle again. ‘Stuart and Guy’s Curious Phenomena is about these two sort of infotainment bores, creeps. intellectual virgins, Yes T-shirt wearing computer enthiusiasts,’ he

says. Sound like distant cousins of Wayne and

Garth, but then there’s nothing new on Planet TV I

anymore is there?

Saturday Zoo starts on Channel 4 on Saturday I 6 January at 10pm.


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