Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Don't Scare The Turkey

The hare is dead: frankly, it never looked very alive to me.

The news that BBC1 has decided to axe its infantile game show “Don’t Scare The Hare” after just three disastrous and expensive episodes must come as no surprise to anyone who has actually seen it: which isn’t many (the ratings have plumbed new depths for Saturday night viewing).

For those who haven’t, it’s a show with dubbed laughter, a strange and superfluous music track, a scary presenter with giant glasses and a cap hiding his baldness, and an animatronic hare which trundles around the studio like a dalek. Grownups play children’s games and if they fail, the hare runs off “scared”. Oh, and someone wins some money.

Wow: somebody actually sat in a darkened room and came up with this drivel, and the BBC paid them a couple of million quid to stage it. It looks like cheap Bulgarian children’s television. Suspecting that it was designed for two-year-olds, we tried it out on Izzy. She didn’t last twenty seconds, angrily demanding we switch to Peppa Pig. The BBC clearly cast the wrong animal in the lead – it should have been a turkey.

Mind you, all producers have made them: turkeys, that is. When Mark Thompson quit the BBC as director of programmes, at his leaving do he gave a speech about his career highs and lows. Robot Wars, which I produced when he was running BBC2, was a high; but the lowest of the lows was a Saturday night game show called Happy Families.

It seemed like a great idea at the time: Gladiators had just completed its first series on ITV, and arena shows seemed to be the in thing. So, rather than lycra-clad superheroes with false names like Jet and Wolf, I came up with a show that pitched extended families against each other. We staged it at the London Arena: a barn of a place so big we had to build giant games to fill it. In the middle were two metal cages in which the contestants imprisoned their grandmothers. The contestants had to “Hoist up their Grannies” a hundred feet to the top of the building. Yes, I was responsible for this nonsense.

The show opened in the roof, with a giant roller coaster made up of hand-powered bikes. One by one each family member pedalled furiously to link up with the others into one long hand-powered train, which began a terrifying descent to the ground, hitting more than 40 miles an hour on the bends with no safety net. I was scared that we might dump an entire family onto the heads of the audience. Sometimes the bikes got stuck and the contestants were suspended in mid-air: one woman broke her arm on the pedals. We also built absurd games like “Terrorball”, in which someone had to answer trivia questions about their family while being spun upside down. There was even a game for the family dog.

I was terrified one of the grannies would suffer a heart attack. In fact, the biggest problem was incontinence: you wouldn’t believe how many times they needed to go to the toilet during filming. Each time the wretched cage had to be slowly winched down so they could be released. We went wildly over schedule, frequently filming into the night, by which time the audience – all 5,000 of them, had drifted off home. So instead of a mass spectacle, we had to shoot everything in close-up and cut in shots of audience cheering from the afternoon.

Right now I feel the pain of Don’t Scare The Hare’s producer. After so much effort, realising you’ve created a turkey is no fun. But at least the hare won’t be lonely, as it lies buried in the Saturday night television graveyard: it will have two granny cages and a load of rusty hand-pedalled bikes for company.

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