The BBC are scrapping The Review Show. As part of the corporation’s big shake-up the show, which has been going for twenty years in various guises, is to be cancelled, with no mention if anything is going to replace it.
Book shows have always been a mystery to me. I mean, what are they? Books are a deeper medium, a sort of textual magic-eye that take time in which to immerse yourself. It’s something TV just can’t relay. Film shows jump in and out of movie clips. Music shows, the same, they even have music videos to keep you interested if your ears get bored, but poor old books have nothing. Pretty much every book show I’ve ever watched has felt uncomfortable, like a really bad pair of trousers. I get what it’s meant to do, but nothing fits, and I just feel awkward for everyone involved. They never convey the joy and fun of reading. If I were a producer given the task of making a book show, this is what I’d do.
1) A different genre each week
Shows need a spine. Something the program can anchor on. Scattergun reviews can leave me seasick, I’d like to know that with each show I’m going to learn something, hopefully about a new genre I’ve never tried before. They can do the weekly reviews of all genres at the end, but educate me. For example, I like post-apocalytptic fiction (funny considering I’m a comedy writer, but hey, that’s what I dig) and I’d like some TV type to walk me through the genre, from its early beginnings to its latest offerings. I want a potted history with some recommended books and seminal tomes brought to my attention, and I want it to leave me a) knowing something about the genre b) knowing about works/writers within the genre and c) where I should look if I want more info. Next week it might be Romance (something I don’t like to read, but hey, I don’t know anything about it, maybe there’s a romance genre I might like…I don’t know, I need someone to open my eyes). Also, bring new genres to everyone’s attention, show how books and storytelling are evolving.
2) Bring Hollywood into it…
Writers of source material for films (whether that be original fiction or spec film scripts) get nowhere near the exposure they deserve. I seem to recall an interview with Charlie Kaufman who said he got forgotten in the promotion of Being John Malkovich (I think the studio refused to fly him to a premiere in Italy or something similar). How does that happen? He wrote the damned script that everyone is making money from. I’d like to see a feature that shows what scripts/books Hollywood are buying up, and which classic novels are planned for the silver screen. Also, interview writers about how they feel Hollywood handled their source material. Did the final film match their vision? Was George Clooney the lead they had in their head? Etc etc.
3) Self Published Pot Luck
Pluck a book at random from the Amazon/Lulu vault. There needn’t be an in-depth review, just a few lines. The book doesn’t even have to be good. This feature should show the variety of books out there that don’t go through the mainstream, and why some never should. Think of it a bit like Have I Got News For You’s guest publication feature. Light relief, but could also turn a reader onto something extraordinary.
4) Get more audience participation
Twitter is a fantastic medium for writers and bookworms. A show should engage with it. It should pose questions the same way Danny Baker comes up with great ideas for radio phone in topics (he’s also got a brilliant, enthusiastic style). Subjects could be #WeirdestBookYouBoughtFromACharityShop or similar. (Mine would be ‘Teach Yourself Esperanto’. It was only when I got it home I realized it was meant to come with a cassette. D’oh!)
5) Be less serious and more fun.
Every book show I’ve seen has been too far up its own backside. There’s no need to dumb it down, but don’t get people reviewing it who belong in Pseuds Corner. Get knowledgeable and passionate people. If you’ve got scholars on there, have an everyman (or everywoman) too. I don’t want people on there who are on the show only to look smug, I want people who love stories and are as passionate about them as the blokes on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday. I don’t just want literary fiction reviewed, I want the commercial stuff, I want fair reviews and controversial opinions. But most of all I want it to be fun. Reading books is an absolute joy, communicate this through a TV show and you’ll find yourself with plenty of happy viewers.