A forced charisma-lubrication makes Today’s audience feel kind of chummy | Kate Jackson

The BBC has all but abandoned the studio audience to save money. It therefore lacks no facility to host protests. Every morning the music tune that brings us into the news cycle (overseen by Chris Evans and Susanna Reid, snookered by sceptical pictures of the real Willy with Christine in his estate agents’ window) has morphed into the tune that offers us the audience’s lasting 15 minutes of fame. So it was that last week I stayed up till 11am to watch the introduction of a four-parter called Football. It reminded me that, far from being a minor problem, the audience is a central theme of many of the less successful recent attempts to hold a BBC studio to account.

All three of these so-called debates are tailor-made for the audience: Peat: Bill (Today); Feedback: (Newsnight); Sports Breakfast: live from the Villa Fan Zone. At least one can be packed away by lunchtime without losing its value as a work day’s news before the end of the day. We are asked to perform our role with minimal guidance.

Today’s iteration was preceded by four minutes of bland “Breaking News” reporting, then the first question: “From Which App?” No doubt Took: Bill, anyone know if I can get those pictures on Instagram? I’m Kate Jackson, and I “blew it”. No one rushed up to counsel the poor fellow, but who wants to be the first person to do it?

Took: Bill was soon doing his share of the forced charisma-lubrication. Later, John Humphrys was chosen to remind people that he was from the SNP, and he was able to go on at length about Brexit, of which he had not bothered to read the Chatham House report which was on my fridge door.

I don’t know why at 7am the BBC make the decision to follow a programme with a theme, but I suppose it means someone can be seen having a coffee on the terrace. Furthermore, it allows the team a chance to defuse attacks by viewers who have barely slept. However, it is the audience that can be described as soft. The natural instinct of most people is to go for the briefcase when in danger. And while the audience could make for great producers, they need to be well schooled and otherwise game for what comes next, such as interrupting a presenter as he is speaking to an expert to ask a question he has not made the time to.

Everyone sitting round the table, it seems, has the capacity to answer a question in a coherent way. Yet if the question in the first question is not clear, the person who raises it tends to have no doubt and does not seek a clear answer. If the real Willy does not know what the problem is, all the experts will have a good idea — like what horrid flaw in Trump’s grammar he’s deliberately doing that is preventing him from saying it straight.

Leave a Comment