As I placed the Christmas Radio Times in the blue bin, I realised that I hadn't actually read it over the "bumper two weeks" it advertised...
What happened on the Monday afternoon a week before Christmas ended up as an accurate summary of this year's scheduled holiday viewing. I came home, turned on the TV, hoping to be lifted out of the exhausted gloom of early evening darkness. Yet another quiz show, I realised, sighing; flicking to the on-screen programme schedule, I wondered if my TV was trying to tell me something. Pointless Celebrities turned out to be the name of the programme, but it also summed up everything I noticed about the programming these holidays.
Because they're everywhere, these Pointless Celebrities - they'd do anything, and they're doing everything. They're doing quiz shows. They're learning to dance, or dance on ice. They're in the jungle and eating worms and animal testicles - the frisson is palpable. Yawn. They're living in a TV studio made to look like a house or in a sub-Fritzl style basement as part of the supposed horror. Now, in the ultimate illustration of how the Olympic legacy will not 'inspire a generation', Tom Daley is teaching a few of them to dive. Watching the first episode of the latest TV offering, Splash!, through the bewildered filter of January, I was reduced to a mildly confused silence. Just what was the point of this...? Had someone commissioned it as a bet? Some caffeinated executive producer somewhere, jittery at a breakfast meeting? "Hey guys... let's get celebrities diving from the high board into like, deep water and like, some of them will look really hot but some of them will be like, fat and stuff? And some of them will be like, really scared? Yah? I mean show it in January? People will be like, so bored with their new year diets and stuff they'll like, watch anything, yah?"
We're already surrounded by talent shows - X Factor, for example, is so branded into the public consciousness that even the spin-offs in a million schools and youth clubs are beginning to look passé. You can compete in singing, dancing, business, invention - you name it. There are even dating shows, so that if you don't have a date on Saturday night, you can sit at home watching other people trying to win a date. Yes. Really. But on Boxing night, I thought I'd seen it all, when I discovered a talent show for dogs. FOR DOGS. In prime-time viewing. Inspired by Britain's Got Talent, won in 2012 by a dancing dog and his Bonio-dispensing owner, That Dog Can Dance! aimed to uncover further canine capering from throughout the UK. I lost the will to live early on, as a bemused Jack Russell wandered forwards and backwards around the stage to a song by talent-show cut-and-shut boyband, One Direction. To thunderous applause, the judges and their dogs pronounced him "brilliant." Because that's right: the judging panel included DOGS - animals unversed in any vocabulary beyond 'walkies' or 'sit'. The Britain's Got Talent dog was head judge. Give. Me. Strength. And maybe a box of IAMS too - these are clearly dogs with ego...
It's all quite harmless, I suppose: reality or talent shows, pointless celebrity challenges. They have become as predictable as the flood of Christmas pantomimes, which place over-excited under-14 bums on the seats of theatres. Like pantomimes, these shows have a bright, primary-coloured moral: there are goodies and baddies, the villain might be behind you, but good will triumph in the end. You get to see that celebrities don't know everything and might have to face their fears, get fit, lose weight, be seen without their make-up or doing something badly. Or you get to see that someone's sob story might be outweighed by their talent. Whatever. We're not quite that stupid, most of us, that we need such simplified morals displayed in 120 pt. flashing comic sans. People face challenges and aren't always good at everything. Stunning.
"Humankind cannot bear very much reality", suggested the poet TS Eliot many years ago. Well: I can't bear very much more right now. When I heard Kermit the Frog providing the soundtrack for a James Villas holiday advert a few days ago, I had my 2013 January epiphany. Celebrity TV has jumped the shark. A puppet frog can no more advertise holidays than a dancing dog can adjudicate a talent show. This pointless stuff means nothing any more.
It's time to put sharks in the diving pool to catch the plummeting so-called celebrities as they reverse-pike belly-flop into the depths of 2013. Time to focus on our own reality as it really is, not the deceptive manufactured variant, indicated with the jazz-hand 'airquotes' of the cynical TV schedules.
It's time to get real.