TV and anaesthesia

The great thing about TV is that it deprives your mind of any stimulus whatever. It is true that some programmes make an effort to grab your attention, by virtue of the script (say) or the acting or the costumes or the pace. But I rarely watch TV (I rarely do, anyway) for this reason – I have no huge interest in being interested. I switch on the TV if I want be mindless, to leave my brain in neutral, and park it in the back of my head.

So it follows that the programme I watch most frequently is ‘Deal Or No Deal’, usually on More 4, when it pops up at 6.05. I usually watch just the last 20 minutes or so. Now, for those of you acquainted with ‘Deal Or No Deal’, this is probably an appalling admission, since it is certainly wretched stuff, and, worse, has rehabilitated its host, Noel Edmonds, and also invested huge sums in his bank balance – this after years of absence from radio and TV, on both of which he used to be a torment, with his japes and jokes and Mr. Blobby, the unfunniest jollity there has ever been.

For those of you innocent of the procedure in ‘Deal Or No Deal’, here it is. 22 hapless members of the public are paid to be in a hotel. Each day, each of them gets a box with a number on it, a number chosen at random. Each box contains a notice specifying a sum of money, from 1p to £250,000, and a series of sums in between. One of the 22 is selected to choose, in no given order, other people’s boxes to open. An open box reveals a sum that can no longer be won. At intervals, a financial inducement is made for the main participant to leave. In other words, he or she gambles that a high sum or sums will be left in the final boxes or box. The show simply consists of boxes being opened to the sounds of laughter, joy, despair, distress. They dress it up a bit sometimes, as at present, when the contestants are rigged out in Halloween costumes, but opening boxes is what it is all about.

I love it. It is utterly, utterly brainless television, and saps the synapses, and drugs the cerebral cortex with supreme efficiency. It is televisual Valium. As I say, I only watch the closing stages now (since no-one ‘deals’, i.e. accepts the offer of a pay-off, in the first half of the programme), but twenty minutes is quite enough to relax my entire system. Some people don’t get it. Chris Tarrant, the host of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’, which is still limping on – I was once a ‘Phone-a-Friend’, but my man failed by a nano-second to get into the chair – said he couldn’t understand ‘Deal Or No Deal’s appeal because it was ‘just opening boxes’. Yes! That’s it! Just opening boxes. (In four series, only one person has actually won the quarter of a million, by the way.)

I am now, however, going to risk a new tack. I suspect ‘Deal Or No Deal’ contributes a great deal to the nation, specifically to how we view gender, sexuality, race, age and disability. The contestants are plainly selected to represent a cross-section of British life. Care is taken to ensure that they include a range of ethnic groups. Homosexuals are welcome. Contestants may be blind, or wheelchair-bound. The show is a leveller. Anyone is invited to risk winning 1p, or to win a substantial sum. No-one is left out. I suspect that this strange little show, with its jabbering presenter, and its inane catchphrases, promotes more harmony than any number of government-funded organisations.

In this, the show is following in the steps of Michael Barrymore, the now-disgraced presenter who began with an equally inane TV format (‘Strike It Rich’ aka ‘Strike It Lucky’), which involved choosing one of three screens (‘The Top, The Middle or The Bottom!’) to try to get from one side of the studio to another. You can get a flavour of the show (but not really the process) at Barrymore was – is – innately funny, and his downfall, after the discovery of a dead body at his home, has been almost total. (I saw him in Edinburgh this summer, playing Spike Milligan – the audience adored him, the play creaked a bit, but he came alive when required to do a Milligan routine.) But my point is not that Barrymore (worth watching) and Edmonds (not) are comparable – it is that their shows both contribute(d) to the creation of a multicultural society. Barrymore’s shows (beginning in the mid-eighties) were almost the first to get away from the all-white, fit-and-wholesome image of TV game-shows.

Oh dear, I’ve come a long way from the idea of TV as anaesthetic. But then, if you can’t ramble in your own blog, where can you?


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