Monday, December 08, 2008

Eurovision in danger of becoming Eurotrash

In another high-profile shuffle at the BBC, this time decided by the figure in question, rather than on their behalf, Terry Wogan has called time on 35 years of Eurovision and stepped aside for a new face - voice - to fill the void.

And it will be a void; Terry Wogan's fantastic commentary on the increasingly-farcical event has become as synonymous with Eurovision for the British public as the obligatory woeful entry we put out. Wogan's subtle but devastating put-downs, tongue-in-cheek xenophobia and stereotyping coupled with his good-natured charm - aided in no small part by the odd glass of wine, you'd imagine - made the competition bearable. Several hours of MOR pop song crap, usually woodenly presented in broken English, peppered with the odd flourish of ingenuity such as Lordi's ludicrous Hard Rock Hallelujah, and the occasional shock of a decent song turning up, somehow became mesmerising as Wogan and the watching audience become more and more amused (and possibly drunk) as international politics come into play, the attention begins to wane and the songs get worse. This is when Wogan is at his best, when respect for the spectacle is lost; becoming more scathing and witty, unrestrained and cheeky in a single-handed bid to keep people watching.

Graham Norton, then, has some big boots to fill. A cheeky chappy himself, his name is nevertheless more synonymous with innuendo, playing to his camp styling and deriving laughter from often crass subject matter. His bouncy enthusiasm and direct interviewing does make him a different prospect on the BBC - granted he's no Parkinson, but then who is - but his show is cut to half an hour, and some of his guests (Dame Edna, Paul O'Grady, Eddie Izzard, Jackie Collins, Joan Rivers, Alan Carr to pick a biased few) seem obvious by any stretch of the imagination.

Norton's switch to the BBC, at an incredibly lucrative price as well, will have done something for his image, as will the BBC's decision to entrust him with his own talkshow, especially one self-styled on the website as "the aspects of celebrity culture that interest him [Norton] most, featuring trademark Norton comedy monologues (????) and celebrity chat". Not quite in line with the BBC's mandate for creative and challenging programming, perhaps. But their decision now to import him into Wogan's vacated seat as the British public's Eurovision Song Contest compere for the evening gives Norton a chance to prove himself.

It's likely to go one of two ways. Either Norton will take the time to write (or get staff writers to produce) a wealth of material, one liners, ironic jibes, comments that showcase his talent for direct critique but with capacity for good-humour, non-serious but funny all the same: a chance for him to really prove his worth. Or it will wind up as trashtalking, Norton getting evermore bemused and high-pitched, spitting out bitter criticism without humour or balance and finally losing the will to try, proving that he lacks the temeperament and skill to really mix it with the top BBC names. One would hope obviously for the former, but such is the lowly level to which the event has descended, a live Graham Norton car crash to soundtrack the madness would almost be fitting for the Contest - the mediocre but watchable Eurovision morphing into throwaway Eurotrash.

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