Colin Hogg on television

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Colin Hogg: Don't mind budget, take buzzcocks

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All the millions poured into American Idol could never put it ahead of UK's hilarious quiz show.

Comedians Phill Jupitus and Noel Fielding. Photo / Supplied
Comedians Phill Jupitus and Noel Fielding. Photo / Supplied

Nothing and no one is going to make me a slave to TV talent shows. Not a multimillion-dollar budget and a panel of superstar judges from across the upper stratosphere of pop music, paid millions apiece just to appear.

I don't care how much they dress these things up, talent shows are a brutal business, mining the dreams of the masses for the diversion of those same masses. It's the Lotto of entertainment.

Nothing good ever comes from it.

But this is the new age of the TV talent show and the things are touching down in primetime TV with growing regularity these days. Last Friday on Prime, the mothership of talent shows landed with the return of American Idol, now in its 12th season and screening here only a day after it goes out across America.

Junk food, even for the eyes, is best served fresh, I guess. And the show has had to freshen up anyway. Its mighty ratings faltered last season, so there are three new judges alongside survivor Randy Jackson.

Now there's old-school pop diva, the magnificently moody Mariah Carey, new-school pop diva, bitchy Nicki Minaj, and Whangarei boy and country-singing superstar Keith Urban. They came at a total cost, apparently, of US$36 million ($43 million) - Carey got 18 of that.

Which is fair enough in the bloated scheme of these things, given that the real entertainment is provided by the judges and not the grab-bag of talent they're judging.

The contestants are mere meat to the grinder - often sounding like it too. They're made to sing solo and a capella and in these early stages the results are often disturbing.

But by episode two - which screened as a second two-hour serving on Saturday - the judges were beginning to earn their outrageous money with a catfight hissing away between the grumpy old persian (Carey) and stroppy young siamese (Minaj).

"I feel like I'm a scratching post," said Urban, sitting between the two glowering glampusses. Urban is a natural playing Mr Humble, with Jackson playing Mr Harder to Please. Not as hard to please as me, though.

Much more fun - and much cheaper - is the gleeful English celebrity pop quiz show Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Its 24th series launched last night on Prime and, unlike American Idol, this show isn't for almost everyone.

It comes loosely hung across a traditional structure - a sharp-witted host struggles to control two celebrity quiz teams, determined less on answering the questions they're handed than making the studio audience hoot, which they did a lot on last night's episode.

Sorbet-haired DJ Mark Ronson played host, with the teams led by comedians Phill Jupitus and Noel Fielding, a cartoonish-looking pair, the former supersized with specs, the latter a bit like Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood's chubby little brother.

The team members were pop singers and a hilarious comic called Paul Foot and the questions and which side won weren't that important because it's really not quite a quiz at all, but rather an edgy, fast-moving comedy talk show with spots of verbal abuse and humiliation.

One of the best moments last night involved putting faded pop stars in line-ups with oddball lookalikes to see if the teams could identify them.

Though, having so recently encountered American Idol, all of Never Mind the Buzzcocks seemed like best moments.

- NZ Herald

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