It‘s becoming increasingly difﬁcult to separate fact from ﬁction in the self- referential world of American sitcoms. As television is the only thing the writers and. it's assumed, the audience know about. there’s a perverse kind of logic to making jokes about other shows. It‘s probably as close as you’re going to come to universal humour. But when one sitcom’s storyline apparently starts tracking the real-life travails of another show’s star, the going really gets strange.
Last month it was reported that Kelsey Grammer. the star of American comedy Frasier (Channel 4. Fridays). had pranged his car and may now face drink-driving charges. Having hit the skids literally and metaphorically, Grammer did the decent thing and checked into that home-from-home of stars in trouble, the Betty Ford Clinic. The production schedule of his show was hastily rearranged. while the on-set ‘family' closed ranks around their meal-ticket.
The whole business was uncannily similar to the concluding episodes of The larry Sanders Show (BBC2, run ended) in which the eponymous chat- show host admitted he was hooked on prescription painkillers. As Sanders.
Garry Shandling had turned the character into a pill-popping weirdo. During the last series. this savage satire of the angst and paranoia which permeates the upper echelons of TV- Iand just got darker and darker.
By the end. the show was barely recognisable as a comedy at all. but it was entirely about television. While more conventionally joke-driven, Seinfeld. which ﬁnished its run just as Jerry and George got their sitcom script turned into a pilot, inhabited similar territory. In a cute piece of self- referencing. Jerry auditioned actors — including a parade of Kramers — who looked like the other Seinfeld characters on which the sitcom-within- a-sitcom was based.
Confused? How about this. then. Last week’s episode of Frasier referred back to the pre-history of the series when Frasier Crane was a barﬂy in Cheers. Now a successful radio shrink with his own phone-in show and a liking for ﬁne wines — let’s see how they deal with that one when the dried-out Grammer returns - Frasier is dragged back to an earlier life when ex-ﬁancee Diane (Shelley Long) shows up. She is back in town after losing her job as a writer on Dr Quinn. Medicine Woman. What else can TV characters do when they’re written out of a series except work on other shows?
Bouncing back. Diane puts on a play at a local rep theatre about the characters who propped up the bar in Cheers. Enter Mary-Anne (read: Diane) and Franklyn (Frasier) replaying the
last days of their relationship as the ever~present Ned (Norm) sucks yet another beer at the bar. While the ‘real‘ Diane watches from the wings, Frasier sits watching in dress rehearsal as his life flashes before him. American television is chasing its own tales and may well devour itself completely should it ever catch up.
By comparison. British television appears so clean cut and straightforward. It’s hard to imagine Clive Anderson over-tuming so much as a vol-au-vent while under the influence of strong drink. let alone a sports car. He even insists on doing his own research. for God’s sake. Say what you like. as a former barrister this is a man who knows his way round a set of briefs.
Despite the move to the big boys channel. Clive Anderson: All Talk (BBCI. Sundays) still continues the studied amateuristn of its host’s early Channel 4 shows when he really didn’t know what he was doing. Now he does. but still pretends not to. Like Larry Sanders. though no doubt for different reasons. Anderson tries to avoid meeting his guests before the show. Perhaps that way it's easier to sustain that raised-eyebrow tone that is his trademark. Certainly Anderson’s least- successful interviews are with members of the alternative comedy establishment of which he is now part.
On this week’s show. the most obvious joke of all was left unconsummated. Anderson's guests were plump comedian Dawn French —
Clive Anderson: talk-show heavyweight sort oi ntirth-with-gitth. if you like — and Lord Lawson of Blabey. who was himselfonce quite ﬂabey. But having
‘ fought inﬂation for years as Chancellor
of the Exchequer. he now looks worryineg like a winded saddlebag.
After resigning frotn ofﬁce to take up a number of fat-cat directorships. Lawson took his former party's belt- tightening policies to heart and lost ﬁve stones (that‘s 70 pounds in old money). He was on television promoting his book of handy dieting tips. which naturally was a rather slittttner volume than his |()()()-page political memoirs.
Earlier. Dawn French had thrown her weight around in quite a suggestive manner bttt despite some obvious opportunities for tnischief making. Anderson failed to introduce the pair on screen. Pity — they could have chewed the fat for hours. (Eddie Gibb)
A selection oi television highlights listed in chronological order. Compiled by Eddie Gibb.
I The A Force (BBC2) Fri l8 Oct.
1 I . lSpm—l .20am. For the next ten weeks. this two-hour slot is being devoted to black entertainment from the BBC's African-Caribbean Unit in Manchester. With links by comedian Felix Dexter. the running order includes a dating game show. Get It On. and a new drama serial set in a gospel church called Brothers and Sisters.
I Iloel‘s Ilouse Party (BBC 1) Sat I9 Oct. 7—7.50pm. Not sure if this qualiﬁes as a ‘highlight‘. but Noel Edmonds returns for
Gaggising I . Top fSpeed O
another series of the popular light entertainment show. In the ﬁrst edition, the ‘Gotcha’ crew sucker ex-Neighhours hunk Craig McLachlan into believing he has landed a Hollywood audition. Naturally there are secret cameras to capture his embarrassment.
I Video Diaries (BBC2) Sat l9 Oct. ll.05pm-l2.05am. New series of Video Diaries kicks off with a ﬁlm by Kailash Satyarthi who works for a Delhi-based charity which is committed to helping free the estimated IO million child slaves in India. ‘There will always be child slaves while customers in the West are so happy to buy cheap carpets and other products made by child labour.’ he says.
I Prime Suspect (Scottish) Sun 20 Oct. 9.15-I 1.15pm. First part ofa new story starring Helen Mirren as the tough eop Jane Tennison. In an effective demotion. she is shifted to the Manchester force where she starts investigating the tnurder of a young drug dealer. A suspect confesses. but Tennison doesn‘t buy the story. Part two is tomorrow at 9pm.
I Everyman (BBCI) Sun 20 Oct. l0.50-l l.40pm. The ﬁrst in a new series, ‘An Eye for an Eye’ is a documentary about a group known as the Avengers. born out of the Jewish resistance movement. which was set up after the war to track down and execute Nazi war criminals who escaped prosecution at Nuremberg. Surviving members and the widow of their leader Abba Kovner explain how. with the help of British and US intelligence. the Avengers set out on a campaign of systematic mass murder.
I The lteal holiday Show (Channel 4) Mon 21 Oct, 8.30—9pm. After her duff chat show. Gaby Roslin bounces back. chirpy as ever. to present a new series of this holiday programme with reports by the holidaymakers themselves - so that means no Judith Chalmers or 'resting‘ actors lounging by the pool.
I The Cook Iteport (Scottish) Tue 22 Oct.
8.30—9prn. Roger Cook returns for another run of the tabloid-style investigative series.
I Witness (Channel 4) Tue 22 Oct. 9—I0prn. ‘What did you do during the war. daddy’ tends not to be a question which goes down very well on the Channel Islands. In ‘Living with the Enemy’. this documentary looks at how the occupied islanders of Guernsey coped with having German troops stationed on their doorstep.
I The Suez Crisis (BBC 1 ) Tue 22 Oct. 10—] 1.15pm. Marking the 40th anniversary of the diplomatic spat over ownership of the Anglo-French Suez canal in Egypt. this documentary examines the events leading up to tensions which at the time were feared could trigger another World War.
I Platform (Scottish) Tue 22 Oct. lO.30—l lpm. New Scottish political affairs show fronted by Bemard Ponsonby.
I Here and Nov: (BBCI) Wed 23 Oct. 7.30—8pm. BBC Scotland news presenter Anne Mackenzie joins Sue Lawley for a new series of this current affairs programme with the populist touch.
I How Do They be That? (BBC 1) Wed 23 Oct, 8-8.50pm. Eamtnon Holmes presents another series of the behind-the-scenes entertainment show, which kicks off with a look at the Williams Formula 1 racing team.
I Modern Times (BBC2) Wed 23 Oct. 9—9.50pm. New series of the documentary strand begins with a ﬁltn about the Victoria and Albert museum which recently appointed a new director who. after Government cuts. introduced admission charges for the ﬁrst time in the V&A’s history.
I halted CIT! (BBC2) Wed 23 Oct, 9.50—10.30pm. New four-part series which examines the secretive world of the City of London. In this documentary by Denys Blakeway. director of the
acclaimed 'I'hatcher: 'l'he Downing Street Years. City slickers talk about life in the Square Mile where money and power collide. ‘You are all striving for this kind of Holy Grail of big swinging dickhood.’ says a former merchant banker who rode the 80s rollercoaster of big salaries and big bangs.
I Weekly Planet (Channel 4) Wed 23 Oct. ll.4()pm—l. IOam. Ion Snow continues this experiment in current affairs which attempts to ditch the domestic news agenda in favour of a more international approach.
I Is It legal? (Scottish) Thurs 24 Oct. 8.30—9pm. New series of the legal sitcom from Men Behaving Badly writer Simon Nye set in a suburban solicitors ofﬁce.
I The X Philes (BBC2) Thurs 24 Oct. 9.30pm. This new series of shorts looks at the fans of the cult sci-ﬁ series and why they have become so obsessive. Ironically, it appears to clash with The X Files which starts at the satne time over on BBC I.
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Prlme Suspect: Helen Mirrentliscovers it’s grim oop north
ﬁThe List I8-3I Oct I996