Forsyth. Edmonds. Black. Three names synonymous with Saturday nights, leaving a legacy that others have, so far, failed to rival. Until now…
The 1990s was responsible for some of the best and worst in pop culture, marking a decade that gave us the internet, Britpop and hypercolour fashion. As a child of the time, I look back on these years with a rose-tinted fondness. It’s a pastel-coloured montage of slap bracelets, Pizza Rollas - and Saturday night TV.
The Generation Game, Noel’s House Party and Blind Date were staples in households up and down Britain, with millions tuning in each week. At its peak, The Generation Game was drawing in 18 million viewers, a feat now reserved only for a show’s live final helped by a PR juggernaut. Each show coined its own catchphrase. “Here’s our Graham with a quick reminder,” “Who’s that at the door?” and “Didn’t they do well?” From Gladiators to Man O Man, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush to Don’t Try This at Home (caution was a common production theme), we were a nation glued.
But something happened; the Great British love affair with innocent light entertainment ended. It was bye bye Brucie, see you later Cilla, to usher in a genre altogether more twisted and tainted: the talent show. The internet was, arguably, the catalyst to this shift, as the limitless information at our fingertips made us more curious, more voyeuristic. Noel and his Crinkly Bottom were no longer enough – we wanted more. Never has the adage, ‘be careful what you wish for,’ been more apt…
And so reality TV dominated the ‘00s, from Popstars and Pop Idol to the omnipotent X Factor, our thirst for sob stories, singers and Simon was apparently insatiable. But, although initially dazzled by slick production and American glitz, viewers are now left cold, turning off the latest X Factor series in their millions. MILLIONS. Tired of being manipulated by producers, recycled format and sob story spin, viewers are seeking purer escapist comfort that satiates their inner voyeur, without being too dark or insulting.
Like a gift from the heavens, ITV’s Take Me Out burst into our screens in January 2010. Hosted by Paddy McGuinness, best known for being Peter Kay’s pal, he represented a somewhat rogue choice (one suspects Vernon Kay was busy that day). But his casting has been ingenious. A winning combination of avuncular charm and Northern humour, he appears both protective of the girls while also rooting for the hapless suitor. And he has already passed the ultimate Saturday night test, with not one but several catchphrases entrenched in pop culture. As well as ‘No likey, no lighty’ - clearly the panicked result of a boardroom brainstorm - Paddy’s penchant for innuendoes has proved so popular they have their own Twitter page. There you can celebrate his twist on Carry On humour, from ‘Let the winkle see the picker’ and ‘Let the wibble see the wobble,’ to the ever more surreal: ‘Let the custard see the cream.’
As for the show itself, the premise is simple and effective: the panel of 30 less than impressed women stand behind 30 white lights, each with a button in front of them. Our Romeo is revealed to the girls via the ‘love lift’ and attempts to charm as many of the women into keeping their lights on for all three rounds. Ye gods. The potential suitor will then turn the contestants’ lights out, all except for one, his Juliet of choice. And they say romance is dead.
As horrific an exercise as this sounds for the ladies in waiting, your sympathy often lies with the brave fool facing this Saturday night hydra. The girls’ reasons for ‘no likey, no lighty,’ can range from the sublime to the ridiculous, but mostly, being the kind, caring creatures they are, these lights are left on. Mostly. Upon seeing Whyte from Brighton , a man who appeared to have stumbled onto the set by way of Middle Earth, a mere three left their lights on. “He looks like he takes care of himself,” one girl answered. Yes, because he has the silken, flaxen hair of an elf!
The show of course has its critics, not least those asking: why must the man always be the suitor? But despite my feminist misgivings, it simply wouldn’t work the other way round. Women have lists to be checked and boxes to be ticked, giving the show plenty of fodder for comedy gold. Men are slightly more straightforward and would probably leave their lights on for every pretty girl that walked on stage. It’s the TV equivalent of hearing girls gossip about their dates in the loos. Men just go in to have a pee.
Take Me Out hasn’t been without its scandal either, having been blighted by a spate of shady contestants in 2012, such as Aaron, the freelance journalist. Aaron, when he wasn’t busy “doing journalist stuff,” was busy punching women and escorting men. He also managed to pick a former prostitute as his date. Security had clearly become a little lax at ITV. The Brits love an underdog though and Take Me Out soon regained its footing, taken under the viewer’s wing like the dodgy uncle who does a “bit o’this and bit o’that.”
After all, the audience knows what it’s got: finally, a deserved successor to Blind Date, so familiar and reassuring you almost expect the advert breaks to show chimps drinking cups of tea.
And all without the help of Simon Cowell.