Sunday, October 01, 2006

The one which only a handful of people will understand

It's 2016 and ITV is the only channel left on TV. The BBC was closed down due to a row that erupted when the government insisted that the Corporation's Charter include the sentence "...for the public good" appended with the words "and Ant and Dec". SKY is technically still going, but Roman Abramovich bought every player in the world for Chelsea and then sold them to a submarine he then lost in a legal wrangle with God over who actually owns the sea. Now SKY is wall to wall coverage of Abramovich staring blankly from his executive box onto an empty pitch wondering why football isn't as good as it used to be.

Despite having not made a TV programme which hasn't involved clips from old TV programmes in eight years, ITV continues to thrive, after The World's 100 Greatest Clip Show Clips (number 1: Stuart Marconie remembers Curly Wurlies) is the show Where Are They Now? And this episode is about the world's first reality sitcom; Linhope.

Linhope, which ran from 2001 to 2006, centred on three thirty-somethings living in West London; loveable boffin; Dring, rip snorting bon viveur Baz and enigmatic couch potato Davis. It told the story a trio struggling to come to terms with being adults. The show attracted huge audiences including here, here and here.

As Friends insisted on growing up with its stars and audience. Linhope religiously stuck to its original, winning, formula. Blokes drinking, swearing, seeing bands, climbing mountains, playing computer games and making mess. Audiences loved it, living their lives vicariously through the threesome. It couldn't last, however, as viewers became laden with marriage, children, mortgages the reality gap between their lives and those of the three stars widened. Ratings reached a plateau and in 2005 the character Islay was introduced as the love interest for the hapless Dring.

Linhope's star shone brightly once more, the onscreen chemistry between Islay and Dring was immediate leading to much speculation from gossip magazine's that perhaps something was happening off screen. In an improbable twist on 'The Rachel' many women adopted 'The Dring' hairstyle and a single by the duo, a cover of Elton John and Kiki Dee's Don't Go Breaking My Heart, was number one for months.

Dring and Islay's increasing profile in the show coupled with the script writers failure to dream up enough plotlines for the developing relationship saw the show lose its initial spark; it turned out that a particularly hyped episode which featured a Islay/Dring 'bust up' turned out to be a brief discussion about which takeaway they'd get that night. Dring wanted out of the show that made his name, and the script writers hastily re-wrote the final series to conclude the story of the three bachelors. Dring and Islay moved to Cambridge in a ratings winning season finale, whilst Baz moved into respectability by buying a flat. Davis' own story remained inconclusive and the internet buzzed with hundreds of fan-stories of what might have happened to him.

Without any of the Linhope chemistry the spin off sitcom "Baz!" was a ratings flop; bottoming out with the episode "Baz concludes that Direct Debit is a cost efficient and convenient way of paying utility bills". A reunion film was mooted to conclude Davis' story but the three stars couldn't agree contracts, and, with Dring in particular, storylines; rumours were rife that the key sticking point was that the writers couldn't contrive a way of including a Training Montage in Siberia for Dring "like what they had in Rocky IV".

The legend of Linhope ended on 30th September, will we ever see the like again?


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