Is it a Mistake to Axe Never Mind The Buzz Cocks?

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This piece originally appeared in The Observer on Sunday. Read The Guardian online version of the article here.

Julia Raeside, TV writer 

While it has provided moments of comic delight over the years, not to mention a reliable place to get my regular Phill Jupitus fix (I love him), I won’t be sad to see it go. The schedules aren’t exactly short of comedy panel shows at the moment and money saved by putting this one down could be well used trying something new. A sketch show, for instance. Where the hell did all the sketch shows go? Buzzcocks was born into a world where pop music was easily accessible on television and the guests were all familiar faces, no matter which era of pop they sprung from. Now it is an odd combination of fortysomething men and tiny hipster YouTube children I have never heard of. Dipping ratings and a thinning of the talent pool have led to the show’s natural death and we should all mourn, accept it and move on.

Amy Dawson, Features Writer 

OK, Buzzcocks isn’t the freshest thing on TV. But it’s an institution, and I think there’s a lot of life in it yet. It’s like the “old man pub” down the street – it’s never going to be the coolest place to drink, and there’s probably something funky growing on the carpet, but you’d miss it if it was knocked down. The anarchic, piss-taking spirit of the show was something rare, precious and increasingly lacking in today’s avowedly reverential TV culture, where calculated sincerity seems to be the name of the game. I can’t imagine it costs that much to produce – and what’s going to take its place? You hope for sketch shows, and sure, that would be great. But I foresee slick but bland multi-platform entertainment franchises, fronted by functioning morons. Surely the random and sometimes rather weedy mixture of guests is part of the appeal – where else would you get to see Har Mar Superstar bemusing Nicole ScherzingerBuzzcocks was one of the only places on TV where pop stars were forced to get stuck in and reveal whether or not they had any wit or personality – a rich mine of unexpected heroes and villains.

JR I don’t think something becomes “an institution” just by hanging around for a long time. Buzzcocks is like the Sugababes, the philosopher’s axe of pop bands. Once you’ve replaced the handle and the head, is it really Never Mind the Buzzcocks any more? What is really left of the pop panel game aside from Phill Jupitus (did I mention I love him? Give him a sketch show) and the title sequence? While I admire Rhod Gilbert’s standup, he does his best work away from the autocue and has never quite matched the bone-dry mastery of first host Mark Lamarr or the impish evil of Simon Amstell on a roll. The supposedly musically themed guest list is looking increasingly threadbare (sports presenter Gabby Logan, anyone?) and Noel Fielding practically phones his bits in from the car park. We’re done here.

AD I disagree that Buzzcocks isn’t worth bothering with without any of its original crew – though I will concede that Rhod Gilbert, great comedian that he is, isn’t a patch on Lamarr or Amstell as a host. Perhaps they just need to find someone who can match their glory days? Or stick to a revolving-door policy – it was funny for a while, and it works for Have I Got News for You. (Unless you think that needs the boot, too… which is very possible.) Where we really differ is on the subject of Fielding. He’s the best bit of Buzzcocks! Seemingly lackadaisical is just his style. Let’s agree not to talk about Logan – I can’t really defend her booking here. But plenty of shows with precisely zero as much opportunity for surreal and totally unexpected nuggets of comedy gold are allowed to limp on into the distance. Remember the fist-bitingly funny moment when Huey Morgan blew his fuse and shattered his mug on the desk, inexplicably wound up by the next-lines round? That was ludicrous! And it could only really have happened on Buzzcocks.

JR The only standout moments people really remember now are the walk-offs. Huey’s meltdown and Preston from the Ordinary Boys flouncing halfway through a recording were both excruciating. YouTube-worthy, sure. But great comedy? No way. Have I Got News for You benefits hugely from the revolving door approach to hosting, but it isn’t being cancelled because it still pulls in primetime viewers by the truckload. Buzzcocks has gradually lost its audience and if Olly Murs and Stacey Solomon are the calibre of the musical guests on offer, they’ll have to resort to bankable comedians as guest hosts. And it becomes like every other panel show. Those rock’n’roll opening titles featuring slomo smashed guitars and pianos have started to feel like an old man’s embarrassing last attempt to prove he’s still “got it”. Give it a rest now. Take up golf.

AD No, not “great comedy”, but that’s not what I turned to Buzzcocks for. I just really liked knowing there was that easy-to-watch, familiar, irreverent but still quite clever something on hand to make me hoot out loud after a few sneaky drinks on the way home. So sue me. It’s true that, where the show once won guests with the musical calibre and charisma of Amy Winehouse – and that whole episode is a poignant but caustically funny classic – it had lost its way in that regard. But maybe Buzzcocks didn’t need to give us the cream of the music industry – there are plenty of other shows that hook in the huge names. Go watch Jools HollandBuzzcocks is where we went for silliness and volatile, unpredictable human interactions – Jamelia is hardly a star booking now, but she was a total barmy hit on the show. Yes, if it was haemorrhaging viewers, I suppose something had to be done. I just feel a bit like Buzzcocks is the mischievous, charming but underachieving boy in school, who’s been kicked out before he had the chance to pull his socks up. However, this argument has already been won, and not by me – the show has being taken off air. But God bless you, Buzzcocks, and your knackered old format.