Programming error

Channel 4 has produced some landmark television down the years but they don’t have a good record with football. Their latest attempt is probably the worst yet as Cameron Carter reports

On October 7’s Match of the Day 2, over a shot of the Fulham chairman choosing a winning competition entry at Craven Cottage with the help of Gabby Logan, Gary Lineker quipped: “And Mohamed Al Fayed had his hand in Gabby’s bucket – she only asked him for a dance…” Now, if you take the crassness of that joke, stretch the brief wondering silence that followed it to half an hour, then imagine a team of media creatives trying and failing to fall off a log… what you have there is a near approximation of The Fanbanta Football Show.

On the Channel 4 website, Fanbanta is described as a “heady mix of comedy, celebrity guests, music, real football fans, rants, opinions, gags and the best fan-made videos and pictures”. This list, presumably written in an attempt to attract viewers, has the effect of encouraging all right-thinking people to consider leaving the city to dwell in a cave while waiting for the waters to rise. Those whose interest is pricked by these words, those who have been lured into staying up until five-past midnight on a Tuesday to witness a feast of entertainment, easily got the programme they deserve.

Fanbanta is presented from a pretend pub, The Fanbanta Arms, by Joe Mace and Kirsten O’Brien. Joe Mace is precisely the kind of person who turns up on a Channel 4 list programme about 100 Best Cameos in Friends and outstays his welcome very early. Kirsten O’Brien could well have been a Blue Peter presenter if she hadn’t met the Devil at the crossroads, who traded for her soul the gift of filling silences with realistic laughter. The two of them, with the aid of contributions by Phil Cornwell, Kevin Day and a studio guest, gamely try to delude ten people seated nearby into believing they are enjoying themselves in a pub. Mace’s promise that “after the break, a Swedish woman throws up live on air” and the fact that Simon Jordan was the guest of honour on one show are all you need to know about the content.

Cleverly, the pre-publicity for the show never uses the word “funny”. Reading “Fans react to hearing Graeme Souness is not interested in the Bolton job” over footage of fireworks is the first draft of a first draft of a joke. Cornwell in a wig saying “spoon” in a funny foreign voice does not disguise the fact that a sketch about Uri Geller willing Israel to beat Russia would be improved by the inclusion of wit, a point, or even a good impression. Apropos of nothing, a Thai Cup draw, featuring teams “Ladyboy United” and “Gender Swap Warehouse” had O’Brien employing a pair of false legs to apparently fire the numbered balls from her groin. Mace began the programme following England’s defeat in Russia dressed in German folk costume, his “joke” being that he will henceforward support a successful team that knows how to take penalties. He then did a funny German dance. Mace then had to remain in lederhosen and feathered cap for the rest of the half-hour, like a naughty boy who’s been told to sit in his bad joke.

When you direct an entertainment at a crowd, rather than at individuals within it, only the most instantly recognisable references, the broadest and most visual humour will work. Except they don’t work here. The makers of Fanbanta go for the lowest common denominator, and they miss. By “real football fans”, Channel 4 seems to mean people who will be entertained by material clearly thrown together in ten minutes by angry misanthropists. If you’re aiming a show at real fans, how about writing a couple of real jokes, rehearsing them with a proper comedian and locating them in an actual pub? Just an idea. 

From WSC 250 December 2007