THERE’S a TV trailer which always make me smile. It’s the Have I Got News For You (BBC 1, Fridays, 9pm) trailer. It doesn’t matter what they actually show in the trailer, it’s enough just to know the father of TV panel shows is coming back.
If ever there was a programme which knows how to tell a negative story to its advantage, it’s HIGNFY. Finding your presenter (in this case, Angus Deayton) on the front page of a Sunday newspaper for dubious reasons would normally kill off a programme which is all about taking the mickey out of those in the news.
But the decision to drop Deayton and replace him with no-one, opting instead for guest hosts each week, gave the show a new lease of life.
While Mock The Week (BBC 2, Thursdays, 10pm) sets out to shock – and sometimes offend – HIGNFY has generally played just on the right side of safe, relying on a cleverly-worded script to pull in the laughs alongside comedy genius Paul Merton and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.
Until last week. With Clare Balding – our newest national treasure – in the hosting hot seat, it should have been a blast. But instead we watched perhaps the most awkward five minutes I’ve ever seen on the show.
There’s nothing in the rules which says HIGNFY has to cover every news story.
So why it chose to go into any depth at all on the Jimmy Savile story, I don’t know.
There is nothing about the Savile story which is remotely funny. And HIGNFY is there is to be funny.
Admittedly, it was easy for the show to include it – there had been a hoax transcript of Paul Merton pulling Savile apart when the latter appeared on HIGNFY a few years ago.
But that can be cleared up in a few sentences, not in the course of a five-minute conversation.
Castigating the national press for not publishing the allegations in the 70s and 80s but then turning on the BBC when the allegations came out was also poor form.
It smacked of a TV show sticking up for the bosses – ironic, given that HIGNFY normally goes out of its way to break the party line.
I talked about this on Twitter at the weekend and was generally shouted down, and told that HIGNFY would have been criticised for not bringing it up at all.
But that misses the point – it’s not a comprehensive review of the week, it’s a comedy show which uses current affairs as its base.
It wasn’t the only bad taste moment on the show either. Eleven years on from 9/11, the audience left Balding in no doubt that jokes referencing the Twin Towers disaster still aren’t suitable for quick one-liners.
For someone who was so good at assessing the public mood during the Olympics and Paralympics, Balding seemed to make some funny – and not ha ha funny – decisions while in the HIGNFY hotseat.
Even her rant against the Daily Mail – always a crowd pleaser seems a little odd given she serialised her autobiography in the Mail.
Hislop is normally spot on in exposing such hypocrisy, but even he was quiet this week.
Maybe it was just a bad start to the series.
But a combination of bad news choices, bad jokes and a host who wasn’t half as good as I’d have expected leaves me wondering: Is Have I Got News For You in danger of becoming old news?
What I’ll be watching next week: In case you missed it on Saturday, the final episode of Good Cop is now on the BBC iPlayer. Well worth checking out.