If it is weird and from America, sarky stand-up and Shooting Stars star Mark Lamarr will be covering it in the new mid-week entertainment show from the makers of Hollywood Kids.
Words: Catriona Craig
We have a strange relationship with American culture. We resent its domination of clothing. language. food. everything. But at the same time we find the place strangely cool. Who among us wouldn‘t trade a slap-up tea at Jenners for just one tiny espresso at Cafe Nervosa with Niles and Frasier Crane?
Planet Showbiz. Channel 4‘s latest offering for the mid-week. mid-evening slump zone may go some way towards unravelling the conundrum. Fronted by that pinnacle of British cool. Mark Lamarr. it is an arts and media magazine about all things American. pitched at the hard-to-please youthful viewer. Commissioning editor David Stevenson is adamant that it is a programme with a mind of its own.
‘lt‘s not a fatuous “I'm
in love with America” approach.‘ he says. ‘and it‘s not jttst about wacky
Americana. The show doesn‘t buy into this stttff
Wholesale. It contains some excellent critical journalism.‘
Ironically. this independent approach means that the show‘s title (which incidentally was changed from the earlier choice Pure [interrain/non!) becomes a touch inaccurate. Planet Showbiz doesn‘t trot along in the wake of the usual movie plugathon which means
big showbiz names generally place themselves off
limits. Lamarr is philosophical about it. ‘lf someone
‘I walk down the street and go “Ooh, I'm in America now
Planet Showbiz: Mark Lamarr takes a bite from the big burger
is a millionaire every week.’ he says. — ‘why should they want to sit with me for ten minutes? Getting interviews may turn out to be a problem. but it isn‘t a celebrity show. We don’t necessarily want to do Sharon Stone or Madonna.‘
lnstead. the research team has unearthed an unusual collection of subjects. combining genuine original talent with the voyeuristic appeal of the hopelessly weird.
The highlight of the first programme is David Blaine. a talented magician with bags of street-cred (no. really). whose awesome sleight of hand makes the normally unflappable Lamarr gawp like a fool. The same show covers a woman who takes photos of her mother and calls it art. plus a stilted interview with Kevin Bacon as our man tries to get him to talk about the notorious cult college parlour game. Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the same production company brought us Hollywood Women and their lovers. pets and kids. Like the Hollywood series. Planet Show/2i: has an unerring ability to find oddballs. but may not have the guts to push ideas far enough. At times it looks like watered-down linrotms/z minus the funny voices. and without Lamar'r‘s carefully-judged sardonic input it could easily stray down the road to Blandsville.
The show‘s success will surely rest on the amount of leeway given to its presenter. Lamarr has a fascination for America and genuinely appears to be in love with the job. ‘When I was a kid I always wanted to live there and I haven‘t really got over that excitement.‘ the bequiffed one admits. ‘l walk down the street and go “Ooh. I‘m in America now“.‘ His enthusiasm is infectious. and tempered by the fact he knows exactly when to dive in and take the piss. It is this instinct that promises to make Planet Show/)5: so watchable.
Planet Showbiz starts on Wed 30 Apr, 8.30pm, Channeld.
Touching Evil Scottish, 29 Apr, 9pm.
Scriptwriter Paul Davies, part of the team who worked on Cracker, has no illusions about the effect of casting Robson Green as lead in lTV's latest prime time 'tec drama series, Touching Evil. 'He’s got this career that people want to hit him for, or slap him on the back for,‘ Davies says. 'But in terms of getting attention for the series, he’s good news.’
Touching Evil is part of the Cracker, Prime Suspect school of superior, high production value cop dramas. But instead of Coltrane or Mirren - both of whom brought a certain cachet to their roles - it has Green, the cheeky chappy we know so well from appearances in Casualty, Soldier Soldier and as one half of irksome singalong duo Robson and Jerome.
Here Green plays Dl Dave Creegan, a maverick detective drafted in to build what looks like a prototype version of a British FBI. It is Cracker and Prime Suspect adapted for the mums and dads audience who switched off because they didn't like the violence. lntriguingly, it's none the worse for that.
The crime in Touching Evil is still of a gruesome nature, but this time it takes place off screen. 'We've avoided violence,’ says Davies. ’That’s not because in hindsight I felt we were morally wrong to make Cracker the way we did. I’m very proud of Cracker. This is just a different take on doing a crime series. As a writer you get sick of repeating the same formula.’
If the makers pull it off they'll have a TV scheduler's dream - a show intelligent enough to win critical acclaim while at the same time delivering mass viewing figures.
But there's also a chance they could fall flat on their faces. Green's natural audience might feel cheated when he doesn't burst into song or crack that impish grin every other scene, while others won't bother to tune in just in case he does. It will be a pity if viewer reaction turns against Touching Evil, if it deserves its place in the schedule on merit and not just as a star vehicle. (Fraser Massey)
Touching Evil: Robson Green gets tough as DI Creegan in lTV's new drama series
18 Apr—l May 1997 THE llST75