You’ve all seen The One Show. It’s like big, sickly jellyfish sitting in the middle of the weekday evening schedule, with its many, many tentacles in every pie under the sun. In this vague but evocative analogy, the tentacles are the presenters and the pies are basically any subject that the producers can crowbar into the convenient magazine format, topical or otherwise. Like a jellyfish, it’s mostly water, in a bland sort of way, but unlike a jellyfish, it doesn’t so much sting as mildly irritate, switching topic in a way so jarring that it’s less like spinning on a dime and more like inverting on the head of a pin.
You know this. In the most innocuous way, they merely wildly segue between a report on changes in bakeries since the 1950s and a discussion on falling hairdresser numbers in the Staffordshire area, which comes across as a bit lazy at best. At worst, when discussing something serious or sensitive, they’ll finish with a grave look, pause, then immediately break into smiles as Chris Packham arrives to talk about a barn owl. And they do this all the time.
Alex Jones and Matt Baker, (or, heaven forbid, Chris Evans – more on him another time, I expect) appear just as the grating brass fanfare fades, faces grave. “Welcome to the One Show. Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard, but today, comedy legend Robin Williams has died. This is a sad day for everyone who loved him, but on the other hand, here’s Ann Widdecombe on the history of Kendal Mint Cake!” A jolly VT plays. Then back to the presenters. Kendal Cake dominates the discussion, then, suddenly, they look serious. The camera pans in. Alex and Matt tell us that it’s been three years exactly since the London riots, in which millions of pounds of damage was done and British society was shaken to its foundations. Then they smile. Not to worry! Gyles Brandreth is here to tour a Norfolk doily museum. If society was about to collapse in a hellish firestorm, they would no doubt respond by introducing us to Arthur Stool, a brass band leader who, of all things, has turned his hand to making clogs! It’s like the bad thing mattered, but it only mattered for the length of an introduction and maybe some earnest questions asked of the daily book-plugging celebrity. It really does come across as false and merely adds to the irritating nature of this omnipresent program.
Actually, though, I believe that they’ve come across a remarkable rhetorical technique with unique power. Perhaps it was unearthed in an Aztec temple by explorers, or perhaps BBC Broadcasting House was built on an ancient cockney burial ground. Whatever its origins, it forms the entire basis of The One Show and allows for rapid switching between good and bad news. This could be adopted by other professions. Take doctors. Imagine how the impact of bad personal news about Ebola could be lessened with a smile and a recipe for thick-cut marmalade? Or if David Cameron announced a sudden return to recession and bad news about North Korean shock troops landing in Kent, but then immediately promised to send everyone in the country a Werther’s Original. Wouldn’t that be good? This form of oratory may soon sweep the nation and it may lead to an epidemic of One Show pill-sweetening in which 1984-style Newspeak-managed language is used to lull everyone into a false sense of everything being totally wonderful, even if it’s not. How could you worry about impending global apocalypse when, upon its mention, officials will simply wave it away, smile and give a speech on the history of curtains?
The One Show might be the beginning of the end of us, but I wouldn’t panic. Because now, some funny dogs dressed as sailors!