(In which we see how a muscular man and an often-pregnant-in-summer woman are more similar than one might immediately think)
It was announced recently that Davina McCall is intending to leave her job as host of the TV programme Big Brother. My interest in the programme has waned in recent years (mainly due to the escalating and ever-more transparent attempts by the production team to manufacture conflict and drama, and the increased number of ‘outrageous’ characters who seem all too willing to parade their insecurities and social ineptitudes onscreen, but I digress), but I think it’s fair to say that even people who hate the programme would have to concede that McCall’s presentation of it has been successful – ratings are good, and she seems more than capable of keeping the ‘anything could happen’ atmosphere going despite it all being orchestrated to fit around the advert break and the like. So, almost a model definition of the sort of work that’s much admired by people who like that sort of thing.
In a handy coincidence, the film Pitch Black was on TV on (I think) Saturday night. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but if not, and you don’t mind science fiction (some people just have an aversion to the genre full stop, and this film’s unlikely to convince them to change their mind), then it’s worth a look. It’s got a fun story, some creepy nasty aliens, and Vin Diesel (whose name always makes me think of a very cheap wine, like the Austrian wine/anti-freeze scare of the 1980s) gives a suitably burly and growly performance in it. Following Pitch Black and xXx, I think it’s fair to say that Diesel’s career didn’t quite work out – from the films he appeared in, it seems they were trying to position him as a Stallone or Schwarzenegger-style action hero (even down to the similarities between ‘Kindergarten Cop’ and ‘The Pacifier’, a point I’m far from the first person to make). It didn’t really pan out, though, and I believe that this was for the same reason that Davina McCall’s chat show got poor ratings and was swiftly cancelled in 2006.
Quite simply, I think it’s due to an entirely erroneous conclusion being reached by the people behind the scenes (and probably the agents and other publicity people), which I’d guess is the result of a thought process that runs along the following lines:
“Well, it (Pitch Black / Big Brother) goes over well with the audience, and brings in money… and the main person in it is (Vin/Diesel)… so if we find a vehicle for (him/her), then the audiences will love it. If we show it, they will come.”
You can spot the mistake in that (admittedly oversimplified) conclusion, I’m sure. And I’m oversimplifying for effect, but also because the analysis of a successful creative endeavour has to be careful (especially with things such as films and TV which are the work of many hands; less so with a novel, really).
People I know who’ve seen Pitch Black like it because it’s a solid little SF film, with an interesting ‘high concept’, and some moments of tension and action, and more than adequate special effects. None of the people I’ve spoken to about it said they liked the character Diesel plays (he’s a convicted murderer, if memory serves, though I understand that they tried to make him a straightforward good guy in the almost-universally-mocked sequel), or that he gave a standout performance, or anything like that.
Similarly, when discussing Big Brother with people, Davina McCall’s role is often an afterthought; she is, after all, only the host for one, perhaps two, of the seven or more shows which are on when BB is running. People who talk about BB invariably discuss the behaviour of the ‘housemates’ (read: contestants), the bitching and backbiting and all that. Comments about McCall are invariably about how she’s pregnant again, or the questions she asked in the post-eviction interview or whatever. In no way does anyone ever seem to think that Davina McCall is an integral part of the show (we’ll see if this is the case when she does leave, of course).
In both instances, I think, the success of the item is a result of a number of factors, and looking at the most obvious elements of it seems to be a mistake – the ill-fated (and unfeted) TV series ‘A Year in Provence’ springs to mind. It may well be that you’re talking about something which can’t be duplicated (compare ‘The Office’ with ‘Extras’ to see how it was not all Gervais – indeed, many people I know talked about the finale in terms of Tim and Dawn, not Brent), like ‘lightning in a bottle’. Or it may simply be that there are various ingredients which make something more than the sum of its parts (compare songs written by ‘Lennon’ and ‘McCartney’ with songs written by ‘Lennon-McCartney’). Like eggs or sugar or flour in a cake.
I mean, I love cake, but I wouldn’t want to eat a bowl of eggs or sugar or flour. Well, maybe I’d give the sugar a go, but it would run the risk of seeming like a not-bad idea which turns out to leave one feeling vaguely nauseous or ill.
Which, incidentally, pretty much summarises the way I felt after watching ‘xXx’ and ‘Davina’.