Piers Morgan, the star signing at TalkTV. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra)

Why is TalkTV failing?

Monotonous boomer bait creates apathy, not outrage

Artillery Row

In Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, a young sociopath, Alex, is forced to watch dark images of sex and violence, with his eyes held open, while drugs are pumped into his system to produce fear and nausea.

Unrelatedly, I have decided to spend a few hours forcing myself to watch TalkTV. A new arm of the Murdoch empire, it features luminaries such as Piers Morgan, Jeremy Kyle and James Max grousing about the issues of the day. 

It has not had the easiest of births. Morgan, the star signing, has been drawing smaller audiences than his lesser-known rivals over at GB News. The debut of his show Uncensored attracted 400,000 viewers. A month on, the programme attracts fewer than 50,000.

Morgan is not wholly wrong, when he makes his excuses, that live television shows are an endangered species. Still, I wonder if the struggles faced by TalkTV have anything to do with its output.

It is perversely admirable how Morgan has had such success with so little talent

Mike Graham, a media vet with an amphibious bearing, has a segment called “Plank of the Week” in which he and two guests discuss people who have annoyed them. Over half an hour, they rain ill-tempered verbiage down on HSBC, Angela Rayner, people protesting against a statue of Margaret Thatcher, Harry and Meghan, the Church of England, Lord Hogan-Howe, the NHS and Boris Johnson. 

By the end, I am angry. I am not sure what I am angry about, given the pace at which Graham and his guests have been blustering. (Were Harry and Meghan against a statue of Margaret Thatcher? Or was it Boris Johnson?) But I am angry. Outraged. Fuming. 

James Whale hosts a show called James Whale Unleashed. Unleashed! One imagines Whale charging into his studio, smashing the set and kicking his producer in the balls. Disappointingly, James Whale Unleashed features the titular presenter nattering with Bobby Davro. No balls are kicked.

Onto the main event. Piers Morgan is many things, few of them impressive, but it is perversely admirable how he has had such success with so little talent. Humour? Charm? Eloquence? All of them are alien to a man for whom God, in His wisdom, decided to exhaust his supplies of aimless belligerence.

Morgan seems to be annoyed about everything (a common trait among the annoying). His show begins with an absurdly bombastic introduction, featuring martial music, The Day Today-esque graphics and big words like “WOKE INSANITY”, “SNOWFLAKE SOCIETY”, “CANCEL CULTURE” and “THE WORLD’S GONE NUTS”. It’s like a man ate a copy of The Daily Express and puked it out across the screen.

One-note grumbling doesn’t motivate me to care

Then Morgan complains. He complains about Trump. He complains about Johnson. He complains about trans activists. He complains about the Kardashians. He complains in the same colourless, stentorian style about everything, draining all sense of perspective and making one feel as if the end of the world would be on par with Prince William being booed at a football match. One show begins with Morgan debating with a Taliban representative about human rights abuses in Afghanistan and ends with him complaining about scientists who think there is a gender bias in the naming of helminths (say what you like about the Taliban, but that isn’t an issue that would concern them).

Morgan’s “brain dump” segment (I think that refers to the transfer of knowledge rather than being a description of his cognitive faculties) moves within ten minutes from the cost of living crisis to female football players not being paid enough. How the viewer is supposed to care about Megan Rapinoe being “very rich” instead of “incredibly rich” just after being reminded that it might be tough to afford heating in the Winter is a question for the ages.

So committed is Morgan to airing his unexceptional opinions on absolutely everything that during his interview with Anne Robinson (of seductive winking on The Weakest Link fame), Robinson is forced to ask him if he is interviewing her or she is interviewing him.

I don’t feel angry anymore. I feel numb inside. Cold. Hard. Dead. All of my potential for righteous indignation has been squandered on one of the lesser known Kardashians adding a filter to her wedding photos.

On a business level, you can understand the appeal of this sort of programming. It must be cheap to run. Once you have paid the presenters you only need a few desks, a cameraman and a cleaner to mop up the phlegm. Still, why does this need to be a television channel? The visual content is minimal, unless, of course, you think that Piers Morgan is some kind of Adonis. Why is it more than radio?

Yet it cannot be a lot more listenable than watchable. I agree with a lot of the sentiments expressed by the presenters of TalkTV. Cancel culture is bad? Tell me about it. People get offended too easily nowadays? Of course. Calling yourself a woman or a man doesn’t make you one? For sure. It’s good that such opinions can be expressed. 

But the one-note grumbling doesn’t motivate me to care about these issues. Somehow, such monotonous boomer bait has the opposite effect. Without the subtle tastes and textures of insight, humour, mystery and eloquence, I feel a bit like I am eating an enormous vat of unflavoured porridge. In A Clockwork Orange, Alex wakes up feeling “shagged and fagged and fashed and bashed” with his “glazzies … stuck together real horrorshow with sleepglue”. I know what he means.

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