Tonight, More4 broadcast the first episode of The TV Book Club, the successor to the Richard & Judy Book Club, but extended to half an hour and presented by a panel of five celebrities (Jo Brand, Nathaniel Parker, Laila Rouass, Dave Spikey and Gok Wan). I never paid much attention in the R&J days, but watched this partly out of curiosity, and partly because I already knew the book under discussion, Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (my review of that book is here). And I’m left with one main thought: is that it?
Each week, we were told at the beginning, the panel would be joined by a guest who would take part in the discussion and also talk about their own book. This week’s guest was Chris Evans, who was interviewed about his autobioraphy for most of the first half. This actually ended up being the most in-depth item on the whole programme; but,. as I’m not terribly interested in celebrity autobiographies, I couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for it.
After the Evans segment, the show blew its own trumpet with a short item on the author Cecelia Ahern, and how her career was transformed by being chosen for the Book Club back in 2004. And that was the end of part one.
Part two arrived, and were we now going to talk about the week’s choice? No, we weren’t. Instead, we had a filmed item in which the comedian Mark Watson asked people if they knew what various obscure words meant. (This was in relation to a recently-published book called The Completely Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler.) Watson was, as ever, entertaining; and, at least, this was telling me about a book of which I was unlikely to have heard. But, still, this item was essentially a makeweight in a programme that really needed more substance.
And, finally, we made it to The Little Stranger. First, a short interview in which Waters talked about the book; then the actual discussion, which lasted less than five minutes. In a half-hour show. How disappointing.
So, the first episode of The TV Book Club was unsatisfactory on just about all counts. It didn’t succeed as a book club, because barely five minutes in total were devoted to the chosen book. It didn’t succeed as a magazine programme about books, because it didn’t cover enough new/unfamiliar books, or talk about its subjects in any real depth. We don’t have that many TV shows about books in the UK as it is — but new ones really need to be better than this.