Match of the Day and Michael Parkinson's chat show have this in common: they were invented in the 1970s, and in the 21st century are in crisisby David Herman / September 26, 2004 / Leave a comment
ITV executives are still crowing over snatching Parkinson from the BBC. At the same time, BBC executives were licking their lips over seizing back Premiership football on Saturday nights from ITV. Both are totally deluded.
This may seem counterintuitive. Michael Parkinson’s Saturday night chat show is a television legend. Starting in 1971, it ran for 11 years, clocking up over 350 editions. Everyone over 40 remembers the famous programmes with Muhammad Ali and Rod Hull and Emu, the stuff of which Saturday-night archive compilations are made. Successfully revived in the late 1990s by executive producer Bea Ballard, who learned her trade at LWT and then at the BBC from former Parkinson producer, Richard Drewett, the show has run for six years and has featured pretty much everyone who is anyone on the celebrity A-list, from Anthony Hopkins in the moving first show to Meg Ryan, Gwyneth Paltrow and the Beckhams.
Premiership football, similarly, seems an obvious gain for BBC1. At their best, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea play extraordinary football. The game is bursting with big names and exciting new talent, mostly imported from Italy, France and Spain. Motty, Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen are tried and tested. You can already see the new opening titles: Ronaldo and Henry, Kluivert and Drogba. The BBC can hardly wait for the new season.
This all seems plausible, but is actually wrong, because it misses the point that two of British television’s warhorse genres are in crisis. When we think of the great days of Parkinson and Match of the Day, we think of the 1970s. The rules of the chat show and television football have changed.
When we think of the best episodes of Parkinson, what comes to mind apart from the tussles with Ali and Emu? The wit of David Niven and Peter Ustinov, Billy Connolly’s first electrifying appearance, the great movie stars from the golden age of Hollywood? Or do we think of the monosyllabic Meg Ryan, the inarticulate Gwyneth Paltrow and Sarah Ferguson puffing her latest children’s book?
Celebrity has changed. The great guests on Parkinson in the 1970s were interesting, not because they were plugging their new movie or autobiography, but because they had lived a bit, they were articulate and often smart. They had what Denis Healey used to call “hinterland.” Their best days were often behind them and they were looking back, full of great…