Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Where were you when ITV Play died?

There are many important moments in global history that for the rest of your life you’ll almost certainly remember where you were, when you first heard about them.

Where were you when The Berlin Wall fell? – I don’t know, I was only seven at the time. Though I do seem to remember hearing about it on Newsround and wondering why the people didn’t just walk around the wall to get to the other side of Berlin (simpler times).

Where were you when Princess Diana died? – At home sitting on my bed annoyed that the news was on when it was supposed to be CBBC.

Where were you when the Queen Mother died? – At home, where I’d just finished watching Auntie’s Bloomers, the outtake programme hosted by Terry Wogan. Problem with watching outtake programmes is you get in the mind-set that whatever you’re watching is about to go wrong. So as I was watching Peter Sissions break the news of the Queen Mother’s death I kept expecting him to fall of his chair – as it was the only thing that went wrong on that day was when he decided to leave his burgundy tie on.

Where were you when September the 11th happened? – On my first trip to America, unashamedly shi**ing myself as my holiday seemed to be turning into Armaggedon – obviously now with hindsight I wasn’t really affected by those events, certainly compared to the thousands that were, but sadly that logic still doesn’t pay for the resultant rather expensive dry cleaning bill.

This is rather roundabout way of filling up some blog inches before I ask you the key question of this blog, where were you when ITV Play died? You probably don’t remember, the reason I ask is because today the 6th of March is the fifth anniversary of the day ITV Play said goodbye – and they say I can’t be topical. I believe to mark the occasion ITV are burning Brian Dowling on a giant bonfire consisting of your cash. If you want to be part of this event all you have to do is call 08845 600 9000, and answer this simple question, what is the name of the main street on which Coronation Street is set?

A.      Coronation Street

B.      Baghdad High Road

C.      Cheryl Cole’s Driveway

Calls cost £85 per minute and you almost certainly won’t be picked to be put through to the studio but your call will still be charged.

For those of you who don’t remember ITV Play it was one channel, amongst a plethora of other digital and satellite offerings which showed back to back phone-in quizzes. Where suspiciously attractive looking presenters, and Brian Dowling (I should at this point apologise to Brian Dowling for being the only quiz show presenter I unfavourably compare throughout this blog, but it’s your own fault being the only quiz show presenter who has reinvented their career and thus remains in my consciousness) asked a series of apparently deceptively simple quiz  questions. Each question was worth a not unreasonable cash prize, and as caller after caller rang into the studio only to give the wrong answer the average viewer was left increasingly confident that their answer was the correct one, until eventually they called in.

Television call-in quizzes got in trouble back in 2007 after a number of high profile programmes, across many channels, had been found to be conducting their quizzes unfairly with callers not being selected equitably or production team members standing in for callers, amongst some of the complaints. ITV Play itself got in trouble when viewers complained about the question “What items might be found in a woman’s handbag?”, to which two of the answers were “Rawplugs” and a “Balaclava”. As the numbers of scandals across the industry increased the Press eagerly started a campaign against television for not being 100% honest, thus making the revelations back in 2011 that the press weren’t 100% honest all the more shocking. Eventually, with public opinion mounting, ITV suspended all quiz channels and interactive quizzes within programmes on the 5th of March 2007 pending an independent audit with ITV Play broadcast its final shows in the early hours of the 6th of March. On the 13th March ITV announced ITV Play would not return, and on the 16th of March ITV replaced the ITV Play channel with ITV2 + 1 making the channel about 96% less watchable.

Of course television has changed lot since then, after it went through another scandal as viewers realised that television lied to them about other things to. The scandal had many sorry chapters including the revelation that EastEnders wasn’t a documentary, the discovery that Gordon the Gopher wasn’t real and the outrageous disclosure that Dale Winton was actually straight.

The reason why I bring all of this up and focus specifically on ITV Play, yes there is a point – you’ll be shocked to discover, is that I once auditioned for ITV Play. Many years ago when I began my career in television when I was 18, (don’t question the fact that according to this blog I was seven in 1989 and eighteen in 2007 – that would be rude), I was on many websites where television jobs were appearing and I often applied for all kinds of different entry level jobs in order to get myself more experience. One such job was as an assistant presenter on an ITV Play programme called “The Debbie King Show”. The job involved being taking over during the show when quiz-show royalty Debbie King was having a break, clearly it’s exhausting ripping off the general public for three hours straight.

Despite my MAJOR reservations about doing this kind of job, let alone the moral and ethical issues, I was convinced by friends that applying would be an experience – they weren’t wrong! After sending off my application I was contacted by a researcher from the programme, for the purposes of storytelling let’s call him Gavin. Gavin informed that they would like me to come in for an audition and provided me with the time and location for where to attend. It was at this point it first became clear that Gavin had all the intellect of a Findus Crispy Pancake. I quickly Googled the provided address only to find it was several miles away from the nearest station that Gavin had told me to go to, something smelled odd. I e-mailed Gavin to confirm that the address provided was correct, only for him to reply with “No! That’s not the correct address” in a tone that seemed to suggest I’d volunteered the location, rather than was querying the address that he’d sent me in the first place. It turned out that Gavin hadn’t sent me a different address, he’d just manage to make a typo in the correct address. Easily done you may think, except Gavin had managed to make a mistake on three lines of a four a line address! An impressively moronic feat even before you remember the fact that this address was the location of where he worked, his office, a place he visits every day! It’s almost if Gavin had got the address of his workplace through an elaborate game of Chinese whispers in the office.

Despite Gavin’s best attempts I managed to turn up at the company’s offices, where I was shown in by Gavin who impressed even himself by being able to successfully operate a door. It also turned out that Gavin was not only a cretin, but had an annoying habit of just laughing moronically in response to whatever was said. I introduced myself as Matt, Gavin laughed. I thanked him for showing me in, Gavin laughed. I think the response would have been the same if I’d have produced a surface-to-air missile launcher from my bag and threatened to fire the entire salvo directly into his genitalia.

Inside I found myself in an office so ridiculous trendy that it was almost a caricature of itself, if Edina and Patsy had stumbled out from one of the doors I wouldn’t have been surprised. I wandered in between desks, avoiding the office’s resident dog – which apparently was necessary for a “creative department”. Gavin headed towards a room named the “creative room”, which given what I’d already seen, concerned me that it might be a wing of Battersea Dogs Home. Fortunately I wasn’t set upon by a pack of ravenous hounds, Gavin ushered me to one of the chairs, but being a “creative room” these weren’t normal chairs, instead I was asked to sit on a Perspex chair which was artily designed so that the seat of the chair was approximately one inch off the floor. This major design feature essentially made the chair impossible to use for its primary purpose of sitting, as I was forced to squat down in a ridiculously low position looking about as graceful as I imagine I would if I was trying to climb onto a camel. Once in the seated position, I now had the strange problem of what to do with my legs, with my bottom only an inch off the ground my legs were completely obscuring my face to Gavin as he tried to brief me. In the end my legs ended up sort of splayed out across the floor, making it look as if I’d fallen off a high balcony and landed on the chair breaking my back in the process. These ridiculous transparent Perspex chairs were accompanied by an equally stupid clear Perspex table which to match the chairs was only two inches high, thus representing an almost invisible trip hazard. I started to seriously consider the possibility that Gavin had designed this furniture himself.

After a quick briefing I was taken over to stand in front of a camera and do my audition piece, I wasn’t too nervous about this, primarily because Gavin was operating the camera so I suspected the chances of it actually being filmed were minimal. I was given a question, a fictitious phone number and a celebrity gossip story to talk about. The twist on The Debbie King Show, was that as well as playing the competition she would also be discussing topical celebrity news stories, which viewers would be able to call in about and offer their opinion on (for the nominal fee of 75 pence a call). My celebrity gossip story was about Heather Mills’ appearance on the American version of Strictly Come Dancing. As I preceded to “host” the competition, Gavin played the role of a series of moronic callers giving ridiculous answers to the set question and asking me whether I thought Heather Mills would be able to dance with only one leg, a role which he seemed suited to, were it not for the moronic laugh he gave every time I told him he had the wrong answer.  Once I completed my audition Gavin laughed, unsurprisingly, and then told me I’d been very “technical”.  Technical? Really? The only technical thing I did was read out the question and phone number, a question and phone number he had invented?! Perhaps reading out 11 consecutive digits is technical to Gavin, either that or in my tedium I’d accidentally told the audience how to go about changing a carburettor in your car engine. It could have happened.

I never saw my audition tape, according to Gavin it was sent to the ITV Bosses for review, which I sincerely hope is a different postal address than submissions for You’ve Been Framed. So rather fortunately that tape will never see the light of day again, though this is ITV so there is a chance it will be played out during England’s next World Cup goal or broadcast on their current affairs programme after being described as IRA training footage.

As I went to leave the audition room an unbelievably camp drip of a man burst through the door in a manner so ridiculously over the top that even Julian Clary would have thought it a tad effeminate. He introduced himself as JC, presumably because he shares all the personality of two-thirds of a digger. And then with his camp lisp, excitedly disgorged the information that Britney Spears had just shaved her head and walked into the path of oncoming traffic. This revelation that a celebrity and mother was having a full scale mental breakdown caused both Gavin and JC to burst into hysterics, something that I felt was rather distasteful. I left at this point, worried that my Gaydar was going to explode in the presence of such a highly refined source of pure homosexuality.

I never heard back from The Debbie King Show, which I presumed meant I hadn’t been successful in my audition, though it may have been and Gavin simply rung the speaking clock in error confusing our similar phone numbers. To be honest I was quite relived not to have been selected, if anything the audition process had cemented my views on the hideousness of the genre. I did decide to watch the launch night of The Debbie King Show, in that sort of morbidly curious way you watch a car crash. I was strangely intrigued to see if JC had got the job, though the bit I managed to stomach solely featured Debbie King. Based on my snapshot of the programme, it would appear that the production company had hoped to recover the entire outlay spent on the set with the first phone call!

Unfortunately for The Debbie King Show its first transmission date was the 5th of March 2007, and if you remember way back at the beginning of this blog, you’ll know that on the early hours of the 6th of March, ITV Play ceased transmission permanently. That’s right after all that effort there was only ever one addition of The Debbie King Show – poor Debbie, Gavin and JC, they must have been devastated.

If you take one thing from this blog, let it be the theory that if you turn me down for a job your channel gets pulled the very next day! If enough people think it’s true, the myth will enter folklore and I’ll never be looking for work again!