Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Second First Tuesday Book Club

Two programs in, and so far this lively bit of Tuesday night teeve on Our ABC is still working. I'm trying to work out what it has that makes it different from earlier TV arts chat shows which have nearly all been excruciating to some degree or another. Here are the three things I've come up with so far: no gimmicks, ruthless editing, and Jennifer Byrne.

Byrne was great tonight. She was funny, she was smart, she kept everybody more or less on track without being in the least a bossy cow (this is no mean feat; I could never manage it in tutorials), and she is an extremely experienced TV person who knows what works and why. Being married to Andrew Denton must help a lot, I should think, but Byrne goes further back with TV even than she does with Denton and I am sure they bounce ideas off each other about how best to use the medium. Having said all that, my favourite moment tonight was when she lost patience with all the others, who were humming and hawing about Dava Sobel's Longitude not being enough of a rattling good yarn, and said 'Well, I think you're all fools!'

The editing was obtrusive in that the jerkiness of the conversation was quite obvious and the continuity was pretty nonexistent; the discontinuity, if you will. But at least it got rid of (this much was clear) a lot of waffle and left only the most lively bits of the conversation safe from the cutting-room floor.

The two surviving panelists from last month's four were Jason Steger and Marieke Hardy, aka Ms Fits; Peter Cundall and Jacki Weaver had been replaced by Pru Goward and John Safran. I wonder what the rationale is; is it two out and two new ones in per show? Did Cundall and Weaver (by far the best last month, I thought) only ever sign up for one show? Surely they can't have been got rid of after the fact; they were both great.

Tonight Jason Steger loked far more relaxed and comfortable (as it were) in front of the camera, and what he has to say is always interesting and articulate. Hardy was good, and looked gorgeous (this is important; it's television, after all). I thought she was being a bit wilfully dopey about Longitude, but what she had to say about The Shadow of the Wind was great. Pru Goward was all right but managed to get in an obligatory, and really silly, disparaging remark about 'left-wingers', apropos the admittedly shocking revelation that Gunter Grass was in his youth a member of the Waffen-SS. And John Safran ...

Yes. Well.

It'll be interesting to see who they get for the first Tuesday in October. It would be really good to see someone up there who can match Byrne for intelligence, intellectual sophistication, performance chops and passion, because nobody has come close so far. Louise Adler? Robyn Archer? David Marr?


  1. I tape the program - it's on too late for me - and haven't watched last night's yet.

    I am a bit disappointed that next month's selection, once again, doesn't include an Australian book.

  2. How do you mean 'once again', Ron -- they had the Roger McDonald book last time.

    Oh wait, I get it, you mean not last night and not next month either.

    I dunno, I think they're probably just trying to catch as wide an audience as possible, and I know for a sad fact that most of the nation's readers don't care all that much about Australian books as such. And I should also think they need to justify their existence to the ABC bean-counters on a regular basis. Better an eclectic book program than no book program at all!

  3. See my comments on Pavlov, which I read first. I think they have a format of 2 floating panellists, preferably famous. Personally, I'd have liked to see Goward and Hardy lock horns re the lefty intellectuals comment. And I'm really a bit shocked at the anti-science books comment. They're among the best things I get for review. Lucy

  4. I'm enjoying it too.

    I quite liked the deliberately antagonistic John Safran element that was missing from the pilot.

    And it's great seeing a fellow blogger up there on screen!

  5. Jackie Weaver is performing in Brisbane at the moment -- The Blonde, the Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead -- then goes on an 18-stop national tour. Don't think we'll be seeing her back this side of December.

  6. I finally got to watch the tape today.

    Safran totally spoilt the first half for me: I felt he was being a smartarse without adding anything of substance (which sums up, for me, just about everything Safran does). I hope they don't have him on the show again.

    The second half was kinda boring, probably because Longitude is not a book I've ever considered (well, not for more than a few seconds) buying. After listening to the panel discussion, I felt I may have had the same view as Marieke if I had read it. I wonder if it's one of those over-hyped books that lots of people buy but never finish.

    Marieke has whetted my appetite for the Amis book and I'm going to see if my library has it.

  7. And, naturally, the Blue Mountains City Library ("The City of the Arts" ... haha) doesn't have The Rachel Papers.

    They have this horrible policy of getting rid of books not borrowed in the previous three years or so. They have forgotten what the word library means.