Sunday, 3 August 2008

Blogging on the radio

Not very exciting, is it, watching people typing, or watching other people read what's been typed by someone else? Which is why blogging is pretty unlikely to feature heavily in a TV sitcom anytime soon.* But on the radio, well, words are everything.

Sadly, the only words that sprang to mind when I first heard Radio 2's On The Blog wouldn't be the kind allowed on radio; much less the ones I spat out recently when stumbling upon Series 2 (Series 2! Seriously?). Based around a central character (or caricature) with whom it's impossible to feel sympathy, and written with an all-pervasive sense of disdain for the two things at the heart of it (not that it really has one) - bloggers and blogging - I can't imagine anyone listening to it without dying just a little inside. Certainly, whichever tiny part of me must have suggested I listen had expired under the weight of its own shame before even the first minute had elapsed. Serves it right.

It was just awful.

Still, after On The Blog, at least the trajectory of blog-based sitcoms could only curve upwards - an assumption which probably explains how The Lost Weblog of Scrooby Trevithick got commissioned. Here's the general idea of the show:

Scrooby is a self-confessed drifter interested in alternative lifestyles, recording his dabblings therein in the form of an audio weblog. He has now gone missing leaving just his web diaries. In an effort to find him, his friends have cobbled together a website and a MySpace page, and edited the diaries into half-hour segments for broadcast on Radio 4. The show also makes a potentially interesting attempt at interactivity: "New information/postings/sightings/suggestions posted on this page will be incorporated into the broadcast radio shows," it says on the MySpace page.

Well, comments are definitely read out at the end of the show - to little comic effect. As for the rest of that claim at interactivity; after the first episode I just wasn't really interested enough to follow the comments on the website, so I can't really tell you - it wasn't terrible; it just wasn't very good.

Which was a shame, because I really wanted to like it: after all, it seemed to be trying something a little different. I even tried to believe that it might overcome having Andy Parsons in the central role: Parsons is a nice affable chap, he just has the kind of telegraphed comic delivery that sucks the life out of even the best material - by the time he's got anywhere near the punchline it's often already old and sprouting hair from strange places. Furthermore, the 'mystery' element sounded like a promising way to drive along both the plot and the comedy. Except, well, aside from mentioning the premise at the beginning and end, not once did the mystery of Scrooby's disappearance enter into the episode's actual plot at all.

Incidentally, look at the show's title again. Scrooby's weblog isn't lost, he is.

Anyway, I didn't give the show another try until I caught the final episode today. Whether the plot (such as it was) incorporated listener suggestions I have no idea, because the comments board isn't working properly - 'See all comments' is apparently an empty promise. As for the disappearance, that wasn't worked in even in the form of clues, as far as I could tell; it was just Scrooby experimenting with lucid dreaming, and, well, you know how dull listening to other people's dreams can be...

Yes, it was almost that dull.

But that wasn't really the problem: ironically, it was the blogging.

And the interactivity.

First, the blogging. It wasn't integral to the show. Not in any way. The only difference from any other sitcom was that we were told that these scenes had been recorded by Scrooby for his weblog. They didn't feel at all as if they had been, and if you'd missed the preamble you wouldn't have had a clue. Blogging seemed to have had no impact on the show or its events at all.

Regarding the audience interactivity. As a device, well, yes, Scrooby's disappearance does facilitate this. But that's all it does. Like the blogging, it's not (or not made to be) essential to the show. What we actually hear as listeners is basically just a series of mildly amusing, blokeish musings on alternative lifestyles. Not only is the mystery utterly disconnected from, and external to this (like I said, the shows don't even seem to feature clues), but it also overshadows what you hear. The fact that he's disappeared is the story, yet we're not being told it.

If a sitcom based around blogging is going to work, or if audience
interaction in sitcoms is going to work (whether it even should is another matter), then it's all going to have to be much, much better integrated than this.

Ultimately, The Lost Weblog of Scrooby Trevithick just doesn't work; it's confused; and a bit broken - much like it's central character; though that probably wasn't quite the effect they were aiming at. But at least it tried something.

And it's not On The Blog... For that much, believe me, we should all be thankful.

*Video blogging, on the other hand, would seem to have many more dramatic possibilities, as already evidenced on the internet by shows such as 2/8 Life, or Kate Modern.

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