Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

March 31, 2012

my thoughts on the first week

I meant to write something each day about each TV edition of Just A Minute this week but long hours at work and the time involved in updating the site every day got in the way. So here I am at the end of the week trying to sum up the week.

The programmes have, in my opinion, been a huge success. Each was different but each was very funny.

the first show with Paul Merton, Graham Norton, Sue Perkins and Phill Jupitus was possibly the best, all being in great form. Graham's visual antics added to things and Phill Jupitus also made the most of the cameras as an experienced TV panel game panellist. Sue was very funny.

The second show was almost as good. Russell Tovey never really got into it though he seemed to be enjoying it. Julian Clary is a player who has really improved over the past few years as he has got more experienced at it. This was one of his very best appearances and he more than most knew how to play to the cameras. Stephen Fry was good too if a little less dominant than usual.

the third show with Paul, Sue, Marcus Brigstocke and Ruth Jones was really good too. Marcus is a true champ at the game - the successor to Paul if Mr Merton decided to retire. Ruth Jones didn't appeal as a future star but was good enough.

the fourth show with Paul, Gyles Brandreth, Liza Tarbuck and Miles Jupp was probably Paul's best show of the week - I think he likes playing with Gyles who seems to bring out the best in him. Gyles I've written about a bit recently - I think he too just gets better and better, and it's really good to have such a good contrast with Paul. Miles Jupp too just fits in and will get better. Liza wasn't in her best form. Gyles did the "long-lost son" routine that he did in Edinburgh with Russell Kane, but Miles seemed to play up to it more than Russell did. I don't know Miles all that well but I very much like what I see.

And today, the gorgeous Josie Lawrence, with newcomer Jason Manford and the unique John Sergeant. John certainly adds something different and I thought he was rather good for that reason. Jason was pretty good for a new boy but Paul and Josie held the show together. I think Josie should be doing the show more often than she does.

Some overall thoughts - the set is very intimate and close to the audience which is good for Just A Minute. Remember the 1999 set where the players seemed to be a long way apart? That mistake was not repeated. The direction has been very good - I like the slow pan they often use and they seem to have caught the best reactions. Someone in the comments here was worried it might be too jerky - I don't feel that, but I guess we will have to see if he still feels that way. The audience feel more involved than in most panel games. That's good too - the audience is very much part of the Just A Minute experience.

Paul has been tremendous. I wondered if he might feel the need to dominate as he did in the early 2000s given that he is the regular, but he doesn't seem to. He has been good though at intervening at the right moment. I am still waiting though for a true genius Paul surreal monologue moment. Maybe next week.

Nicholas. I was worried that Nicholas might seem and look old. He could be forgiven for doing so at age 88. And I felt in 1999 in particular that he hammed it up a bit much, perhaps in an effort to hold some of those train wrecks of shows together. But here he is, looking and sounding great, not overdoing things, moving things on and just generally being great. Perhaps he has been helped by editing to a degree, but he has certainly proven yet again that he is going to be just about impossible to replace.

This week has been very very good and Andy Brereton, Jamie Ormerod, Richard van't Riet, Tilusha Ghelani and Malcolm Messiter should be standing up to take a bow. The show works. It's funny. The production, direction and set are first-rate. The addition of SEEING the players interact does add something.

I will make one amusing criticism - the credits for the fifth show list "John Sargeant". Hmmmmmm. And at the end of the first show, Nicholas got up and gestured to the audience to applaud. He does this at the end of the radio shows where it's fine, but in close-up it looks sorta creepy as he seems to leer at the camera.

The reaction from the fans has been overwhelmingly positive. Most seem to think it has been a lot better than feared. Of course not everyone feels this way. Take for example Mark Lawson writing in The Guardian.

Just a Minute needs a format deviation to succeed on TV
The Radio 4 show is currently airing on BBC2. But it needs more than some snazzy shirts and gurning guests to make it a good watch as well as a good listen

Because of an understandable fear of distraction, televisions are banned from being installed in the front of cars. If an exception were ever made, it would have to involve a TV show that can be experienced as radio, with no temptation to look. And a test case for an exception to the Highway Code may already be with us: the TV versions of Just a Minute. These editions of the wireless perennial are being broadcast on BBC2 to mark the 45th anniversary, and last night's second episode confirmed the uncertainties raised by Monday's first.
Television and radio – sibling media – have intermittently been tempted by incest: before breakfast television reached the UK in 1983, there was an interim experiment in which cameras were placed in the studios of Radio 4's Today programme. Regarded as a bizarre and failed hybrid, this concept proved to be ahead of its time, as the convergence of media created by online technology has created demand for radio with pictures: webcams are now standard studio equipment and Evan Davis's business show The Bottom Line and the final countdown on Radio 1's Chart Show with Reggie Yates can be seen as well as heard.
These televised editions of Just a Minute, though, are yet another evolution – or deformity – of the wireless-screen beast. These 10 episodes are supposedly for our eyes only, distinct from the runs being done on Radio 4 – but the format has not been tailored to the audience's extra available sense, in the manner of earlier transfers such as Little Britain and I've Never Seen Star Wars.
"After 45 years on radio, we've finally been allowed to deviate on to your TV screens," declared presenter Nicholas Parsons, but was slightly deviating from the facts himself as, in the 1990s, he was involved in three screen versions of the series, for both ITV and the BBC. The fact that he had either forgotten – or was gambling on viewers having done so – can be taken as evidence of the difficulty of making this series stick on screen.
Whereas The Bottom Line effectively just films the radio format, these viewable JAMs were staged in a TV studio, with make-up, wardrobe and set design staff listed in the credits, although the latter didn't stray from the Have I Got News For You model, with Parsons at a central desk between two pairs of celebrities.
This arrangement proved to be the biggest grammatical howler. Employed so often for panel games featuring teams – Have I Got News For You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks — the 2-1-2 formation sets up the expectation that the duos are on the same side, creating a jolt when, as in JAM, they are all against each other.
And that was not the only nod towards HIGNFY. Merton, although a regular on the radio Just a Minute, has spent 22 years sitting at the right side of our TV screens satirising headlines. Though the producers have acknowledged this by moving him to the left, this didn't put enough distance between the formats, constantly reminding us of why the other franchise has picture and film rounds.
The same point was made by Parsons's unwise continuation of his catchphrase "good listening". Just a Minute is perfect radio because it is entirely verbal, awarding auditory attention. But the only obvious acknowledgement to the fact that the show was visual as well, was in the clothes (Parsons and Merton in migraine-inducing shirts or jackets), and the selection of guests celebrated with a good line in facial expressions: not only Merton but Julian Clary and Phill Jupitus as well.
To be able to view the gurning was a gain, as was the pleasure in an 88-year-old presenter being retained rather than replaced by a young comedian: age discrimination victor Miriam O'Reilly, though no longer at the BBC, may have more influence than the DG. The accounting sheet, though, is largely losses: it's far more obvious when (as in programme two) are all blokes or one guest dominates, and the challenges are somehow more boring when you can immediately see who's making them.
Revealingly, the cameras frequently seemed unsure where to look before settling, by programme two, on a favourite two-shot, with Merton in the foreground reacting to a neighbour's monologue. It was a mistake to go, without much apparent hesitation, for repetition of the wireless format. The television Just a Minute was, as Parsons so often remarked, good listening.

Now Mark Lawson is a clever writer. This however isn't his best work.

There's a clue perhaps in the way the piece is headlined and introed by the Guardian's sub-editor. This person seems to think Lawson wants format changes. But if Lawson feels that way, he certainly doesn't get round to making any suggestions as to what changes he would like to see. My reading is that Lawson isn't arguing for format changes, but arguing that the format doesn't work on TV. But the confusion is understandable because Lawson never really gets round to making a serious critique.

Are we really expected to believe that people will be confused by the seating plan? Does Lawson suggest that the show would have worked better if the panellists were lined up together with Parsons on one side. Or is it suggested that he be sitting opposite them? Or floating above them perhaps? There are plenty of panel shows where people don't play in teams - QI, Whose Line Is It Anyway, What's My Line, Would You Rather, Big Ask. Anyone who thought Just A Minute looked like a team game would quickly have learnt it wasn't. After that, I doubt they would have given it another thought.

Lawson's only other point seems to be that Just A Minute's success is aural alone. In so far as radio involves just the one sense, we know what he means. But that doesn't mean the show can't work as a TV show. Is Lawson unaware that the TV screens are full of chat and talk shows? The basis of the success of these shows, shows like Oprah, The View, Parkinson and so on is not that the shows are visually spectacular, it's that people will watch interesting conversation on TV. Although Have I Got News For you does have a film segment, 90 percent of it would work perfectly well on radio - they even released audio CDs of it. Plenty of other TV panel shows have next to no visual elements - think of QI and Would I Lie To You, probably the two most succesful game shows currently. Here's something Lawson might like to think about - watching people talk and interact can be interesting in itself. It doesn't need something more than that - as I suspect he knows, given his failure to make a suggestion for a format change.

Just A Minute will work on TV if the show is funny and the players interact well. I think the first week proves that. We look forward to more from Nicholas, Paul, Sue, Tony Hawks, Shappi Khorsandi, Graham, Gyles, Julian, Liza, Stephen, Marcus, Jason, Hugh Bonneville and Stephen Mangan in the week ahead.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This first week was spectacular, I'm over the moon at how good it has been. Even Sue Perkins was tolerable.

10:43 pm  
Anonymous Sebastian X said...

I am the someone that was left very worried by the jerky editing on the JAM clip shown in The One Show.

Fortunately, I was relieved that clip was not typical of the first three shows I have seen so far. I feel they edit from shot-to-shot a bit more than ideal, but it is a minor criticism compared to how well it has been done overall.

5:50 am  
Anonymous Paul said...

Shame John Sergeant is truly intolerable, because Josie Lawrence is possibly my favourite player and he brought the show down for me...

7:32 am  
Anonymous Paul said...

Watching it whilst commenting. He's just really snobby... I don't think the other panellists like him much. There is a lot less unity between the players as there was in the previous 4 episodes.

7:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very impressed and credit to all involved - keeping the same basic format as the radio show and the same dynamic between the guests was inspired. Nicolas was just fine at the transition and it didn't seem wrong having him make the transition to TV. I would have liked a TV documentary on the reason for the TV show and the history behind the success of the radio show. This partly would have helped demonstrate why the guest conflicts aren't nasty but fit within the natural rilvery of the show. Gyles is a genius but on Tv could be seen as very arrogant - where we all know why he does what he does and why he is loved.

ps. love the blog and the passion for a show I have only recently discovered.

best regards


8:06 am  

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