Buns in the oven and bodies on the slab
RESTAURANT CRITICS don’t book tables on opening night, theatre critics don’t sneak into rehearsals and I feel pretty much the same about pilot shows. Not that we get to see too many of them. They’re usually made for hawking around broadcasters and potential financiers, so that by the time the real series is made, and fit for viewing, the glitches have been ironed out.In The Takeover (RTÉ Two, Thursday), a pilot for a reality show being shown in the broadcaster’s Format Farm strand, it wasn’t the repetition that was the problem – although there’s only so many times you can hear variations on “we’re all doomed if this fails” without reaching for the remote and bashing yourself on the head with it. Nor was it the length (a very long hour) or the lack of a sparky main character (reality TV needs someone to step up and be the star). No, it was the soul-sapping concept with the whiff of exploitation.
The big idea is to take a company that’s in trouble and to follow what happens when the bosses take two weeks off, leaving the day-to-day decisionmaking to the employees, to see if any of their bright ideas can turn things around.
The pilot was about Tea Time Express, a long-established brand now in difficulty. Its cake bakers, some of whom had worked there for more than 30 years, had been on a three-day week since Christmas and were worried that the company was about to close. And maybe it was the high stakes that made this an uneasy fit for a bit of light entertainment of a Thursday night – that and the way every scene felt rehearsed and plotted.
The workers decided cupcakes were the way out of their difficulties. “After this amount of time what do we hear? Cupcakes. Mother of God, it’s ridiculous,” harrumphed John Sherry, the company’s chief executive, who later, after the workers bagged some orders for their new line, admitted he was wrong. Though you’d have to wonder what he was doing not to have copped already that jumped-up fairy cakes are the bun of choice these days.
So, helped by the businesswoman and Dragon’s Den mentor Norah Casey, and after several scenes where the staff humiliated themselves on TV – one in which two bakers made a sales pitches to a patronising prospective client was particularly cruel – earned enough orders to put the firm back on track.
But did they really? There was an inescapable sense that we were not getting the full story, and how can you talk about a company’s survival without once mentioning its finances?
Format Farm is RTÉ’s big idea for the autumn. The station is part-financing The Takeover and four other pilots to see if their formats can be sold to other markets – which can be very lucrative. But I’m not sure if viewers should be subjected to such half-baked – sorry, it was inevitable – programmes. I’ll happily eat my words, or a slice of Tea Time Express coffee cake, if this format sells.
THE CHALLENGE IN watching A Touch of Cloth (Sky1, Sunday and Monday), the hilarious spoof detective drama written by Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier (of Harry Hill’s TV Burp) was trying to keep up with the one-liners, slapstick, sight gags and daft wordplay. It was like being machine-gunned with gags.