Piers Morgan's celebrity interview series can be seen as the modern incarnation of Face to Face. The trouble is, Morgan is too soft on his subjectsby Christopher Hird / October 27, 2007 / Leave a comment
Celebrity infuses television. There are films about celebrities‚ ranging from hagiographies to series such as Celebrities Behaving Badly. There are programmes presented by celebrities, some of them unlikely pairings (Paul Merton on China), others more appropriate (Stephen Fry on depression). And there are programmes in which celebrities are interviewed. Many viewers must feel that the number of celebrity-related programmes has greatly increased in recent years. A recent “urgent” email that independent producers received from the Channel 4 documentary department, calling for on-screen talent (“WHO IS THE FACE FOR US?”), shows how broadcasters believe that no programme is complete without a famous face.
In the competitive multichannel world, there is a great emphasis on getting a presenter who will attract viewers—especially to subjects which, at first glance, may appear unpopular. But television has always used presenters to bring viewers to programmes and it has always been interested in celebrity. In the 1960s, the BBC showed a long and successful series about the history of western civilisation, Civilisation: A Personal View, presented by the famous historian Kenneth Clark. Earlier still, John Freeman, a politician and journalist, interviewed famous people live in Face to Face. Among those featured were comedian Tony Hancock, radio personality Gilbert Harding and pop singer Adam Faith.
Celebrity and documentary values can conflict. Kevin Macdonald, director of The Last King of Scotland, started as a documentary-maker but gave it up because, “I got frustrated after a while with… making films where you are trying to show how somebody is a genius.” The 2001 television documentary Being Mick, which took Mick Jagger as its subject, finished it off for Macdonald. Jagger himself asked Macdonald to make the film. But filmmaker and subject struggled for control, and the experience was a disaster. “It didn’t end happily,” Macdonald said.
This relationship between programme and subject is one of the issues raised by a recent addition to the canon of celebrity series, BBC1’s You Can’t Fire Me, I’m Famous, being shown on Tuesday evenings until 2nd October. In it, one celebrity—Piers Morgan (pictured, right, with Naomi Campbell)—interviews another. Abi Titmuss, Jade Goody and Andrew Flintoff have been among Morgan’s interviewees. In some respects, this could be seen as a modern-day incarnation of Face To Face. But although it makes similar claims, You Can’t Fire Me is actually not like Face to Face…