The First Episode of the TV Book Club

I have just watched the first episode of the TV Book Club on More 4 and was so disappointed with it that I felt I had to put my frustrations on record, in the vain hope that those in control of the show will change things.

The first book to be featured on the show was The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I enjoyed reading it, but it did have a few flaws, so I was looking forward to seeing what others thought of it.

The show opened in a very cheesy way, with all the presenters looking uncomfortable – a forgivable problem, as I appreciate that this is an important new venture for them all. The programme then introduced their special guest for the night, radio DJ Chris Evans, and spent 10 minutes discussing his book, carefully and thoroughly. This was fine, but I tuned in to hear about Sarah Waters – I have no interest in celebrity autobiographies and their excessive promotion, so I waited patiently for The Little Stranger to appear.

We were then treated to a weird piece about how much success Cecelia Ahern had achieved since her book was selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, with amusing clips which did their best to avoid any shots of Richard and Judy’s names!  

The programme then took a strange, mildly interesting look at a few words not commonly used in the English language, which was OK, but 20 minutes in I still hadn’t heard anything about The Little Stranger.

Finally, Sarah Waters appeared and gave a fantastic description of her book – easily the best part of the show, it was great to hear her talk.

Then the discussion started, but it was terrible – it felt rushed, unorganised and critical.  It seemed to appear that all the panel members disliked the book, but without enough time it was impossible to decide whether they didn’t enjoy any of it, or just certain sections. The rushed discussion failed to address any aspect of the book properly and just as it seemed to be getting going it was all over. It was supposed to be a book club, so why did they only discuss the book for 4 minutes?

Richard and Judy managed to create an intelligent discussion of a book in a ten minute slot, so it is really disappointing that this programme failed to take advantage of it’s 30 minute length. They could have had a fantastic, thorough talk, but instead they wasted their time with pointless fillers.

Did you watch the TV Book Club?

Did you find it as frustrating as I did?

Will you be watching the rest of the series?

43 replies on “The First Episode of the TV Book Club”

I only watched the last 15 minutes (I forgot it was on) and I completely agree that the discussion of the book was rubbish.

Judging by your description of the first half of the show, it sounds like TV Book Club is more about marketing than content. Funnily enough I checked out the website because I wanted to know the names of the panelists (I only knew Gok, Spikey and Brand) and there is nowhere on the website to explain what the show is about or who is on the panel. But boy, if I wanted to buy the books, I could do it in just a few clicks.

I don’t think I’ll bother watching future episodes. If it was a proper book club it would spend more than 4 minutes talking about the book in question. Oh, and it might help, to have some kind of literary “authority” on the panel, whether it be a literary journalist, writer or publisher, instead of a bunch of celebrities and comedians. But maybe that’s the whole point: it’s trying to appeal to people who don’t read, rather than those who, like both of us, read a lot. What do you think?

kimbofo, I think you’d be glad you missed the first half – I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have enjoyed it!

I will be watching future episodes in the hope that they will improve things, but I disagree with you about the programme appealing to people who don’t read. Richard and Judy managed to create fantastic little book club sections in a short spot, without any literary authority. People who don’t enjoy reading wouldn’t tune into a programme that was just about books. Most probably won’t read as many as us, but that doesn’t mean they want to know about celebrities. They will watch because they are interested in books. I’m pretty sure they will be as disappointed as us in the programme.

I wasn’t suggesting the programme was designed for non-readers, merely offering it as a possibility. And, as you rightly point out, why would non-readers watch a programme solely about books anyway? Although if someone’s got the hots for Gok then they’d watch it just to see him, right? 😉

I never watched the Richard & Judy book club thing so can’t comment on what they achieved.

kimbofo, Perhaps you’re right. I have no idea what people who fancy Gok might do! LOL!

Sorry to hear that you missed out on Richard and Judy – they were fantastic!

Totally agree with you Jackie. I wondered at first if I’d tuned into the Chris Evans show – understand that celeb biogs sell well and would have probably pulled in viewers, but surely they had pushed the ‘book club’ element of the show so The Little Stranger should have received the most weighting? Thought the out on the street vox pops thing was bit of a daft waste of time – would rather have heard a more tightly focused filler at least – perhaps some interviews with the general public who had read Sarah Waters’ stuff? So disappointed to have a rushed, all over the place discussion about the book at the end. Was Jo Brand meant to be guiding the discussion? Needed someone to take a far stronger steer of proceedings and ask some pertinent questions, come up with some solid comment rather than the rather weak comments that were offered up. Still, feel it can be improved with a bit more focus, and I’m sure they’ll get a lot of feedback – let’s just hope they act on it! We’ll definitely continue watching as there is so little book coverage on TV… and like you loved the Sarah Waters clip, more of that sort of thing please! Great post, thanks Jackie.

Sarah, I was surprised that they didn’t push the book club more. Apart from next week’s book there was no mention of the other books in the series. There seemed to be no love for books at all – most of the panel appeared to dislike the book and I have heard that Chris Evans really slated it on his radio show. I’m all for honest reviews, but it needs to be balanced and we need to know the reasons that they disliked the book. The Little Stranger is a fantastic book so I find it hard to believe that they all hated it.

Like you, I’ll continue watching it. Hopefully things will improve.

Agreed, Jackie — very disappointing that such a high-profile new series about books could not make a better job of it.

I doubt I’ll be watching the rest of the series, not unless it improves drastically. More importantly, though, I’m not inspired to read the books, either — The Little Stranger is the only one of their choices that I’ve read; but, if the discussions are going to be so short and superficial, it’s hardly going to encourage me to keep up with the rest.

David, I think it is a disaster. I was thinking about reading the rest of the books too – was even considering popping out tomorrow to buy Blacklands, but I’m not sure I’ll bother. They didn’t even promote their next book in the way R&J did. Someone on the panel should have said something about how great it was at the very least.

If we book bloggers (who normally read lots of books) can’t be bothered to read/watch the rest of the series then the average reader on the street isn’t going to.

stujallen, I can’t see anyone buying Little Stranger after watching tonights show – at least Sarah Waters was on the Booker list and is doing quite well already. Those smaller authors will be gutted.

Oh dear, I missed it but will be watching it on 4od tomorrow. It doesnt sound like it was too great, but then again it is the first show. I do have to agree with Kim in terms of this being spun because of marketing. I don’t really get why they have chosen the presenters they have which is part of it other than they are ‘celebs’ and may have a fan base. I did like the way R&J did it, we will see maybe it will get better, but 4 minutes to discuss the book people will have paid for and given time to is just not acceptable really!

Simon, I don’t have a problem with the celebs – someone has to host it and as long as they enjoy reading (which I hope they do – have had no evidence so far) then I don’t mind who it is. Anyone can be good at discussing books if given more than a few minutes.

I do agree that anyone who went out to buy the book especially for the show will be disappointed. There is so much to discuss in The Little Stranger, but they didn’t even get to the basics. So sad.

Do hope people will inundate C4 with comments as hard to imagine a book programme could be as banal/patronising as this. I didn’t have very high hopes – who cares what Gok whatever his name reads – but it was far, far worse than I could have imagined. Jo Brand might have rescued it but she looked as if she was embarrassed to be talking to them.

m, I think C4 are being made very aware of how bad this show was. I don’t have a problem with Gok – as long as he is able to discuss the book then I’m happy for anyone to be on the show. I agree that Jo looked embarrassed at some points though. I hope she manages to pull it all together next week.

I watched it on 4oD and I cringed in the first minute. Why did each panellist introduce the next person, it felt so awkward and stilted. Also the link into the book about words was a palm+face moment.

Why can’t we have a book discussion with people who either write, publish or study books. I don’t care what Jo Brand and her ridiculous white eyebrow glasses thinks of a book.

Also, Gok Wan? Colour me confused.

SkyArts Book Club is slightly better but they keep forcing that bloody bookchair down your throat. It looks terribly uncomfortable for starters and if you want to get a book, you’ll have to get up and bend down. I think I’ll stick with my shelves.

DamnedConjuror, I agree – the tag team introduction was so bad I was laughing!

I disagree about changing the panelists though. I think having a more literary panel might put some people off. Watching those panelists talk about books proves that anyone can do it – I’d be worried about people who knew too much adding lots of references that others wouldn’t get to the discussion. Richard and Judy managed to do a fantastic job using many of the panel members, so I’m sure they can get it right – if they are given enough time.

I guess you’re right but then there’s a part of me that thinks who cares alienating some part of your audience and then another saying don’t be silly. I’ve never watched Richard & Judy…is it still on?

I think the major problem with this and shows of its ilk is that I don’t watch people discuss books, I want to be part of it. It’s like blogging you see someone has put up a good post and started a discussion, you don’t go meh you contribute.

DamnedConjuror, There are quite a few literary discussions on places like radio 4, but the beauty of Richard and Judy (who unfortuantely are no longer on our screens) is that they appealed to a large audience. There is probably space on television for two shows (one more literary) but I was hoping that this one would replicate what R&J achieved. I would like it to be accessable to everyone – just like eavesdropping on a normal book group.

I caught the end of it and thought it was awful. The producers obviously got terrified at the thought of a live book discussion – ‘it will be static!’, there’ll be no magazine format for people to enjoy!’, and so restricted what most book-ish people would tune in for to the shortest amount of time possible. I also loathe the fact that only celebrities are called upon to be talking heads – there are loads of people out there who could do a good, professional job. I think it goes to show that people who make television programmes don’t read, on the whole (R & J clearly were keen readers – that made all the difference).

litlove, I would love to know how many books the panel members read each year, but even if they have never read a book before signing up to the show they are still capable of talking about the ones they read. They had a good discussion about Chris Evan’s book (in comparison anyway!) so they can do it. They just need to have more structure to the discussion and a lot more time.

Verity, I haven’t seen much promotion of the book club either. I have seen it mentioned a lot on twitter, but nothing on the high street, but then maybe I just don’t get out enough!

Jackie – I’m almost glad I forgot it was on! I may watch next week – in case things improve. It’s a real shame they bungled the first episode.

Mind you they did that to the last series of Gardeners World, and they’ve now realised that it turned everyone off ….

Annabel, I don’t know anything about the Gardeners World problem, but it is good to know that they can turn things around when the public aren’t happy. My fingers are crossed!

I see why you were disappointed! There is so much to discuss with this book! What a disservice, to have discombobulated hosts talking about it for 4 minutes. I would have thrown something at the TV. I was able to hear an interview of Waters on the audio of Night Watch and she is delightful.

Sandy, Perhaps I should find some more Sarah Waters interviews on the internet and listen to them instead – I’m sure they’ll be far more interesting than the show yesterday!

Having read your thoughts, and similar appraisals by Simon S and dovegreyreader, I am confident I’m not missing much here. I don’t really need it anyway, when there are so many excellent blogs like yours to keep me well stocked with great reading ideas. Meanwhile it could still be a very good thing for the books and authors who make it on to the list. The R&J list was often quite a reliable indicator of a certain kind of appealing, if somewhat middle of the road, sort of book. (There’s nothing wrong with being “middle of the road”, though it does increase one’s chance of getting run over!) Their label on the cover probably did as much, if not more, to sell the books than did the show itself. I read several of their recommendations, but never saw the programme.

David, I loved most of the books that were on the R&J show and I’m sure I’ll enjoy the TV Book Club selection, but I do worry that they won’t see the rise in sales that the R&J books saw. I don’t think anyone would be persuaded to buy The Little Stranger after seeing last night’s show, which is a real shame as the book is quite good.

Disclaimer: I’ve not read The Little Stranger; I’ve not watched The TV Book Club (could not find the episodes available online).

I was, however, urged to watch The First Tuesday Book Club, a show that airs on ABC in Australia. I noted they, too, discussed The Little Stranger and seemed (again, I’ve not read it) to make an effort to discuss both what they liked AND what they disliked about the book. The link, if you’re interested:

It was really disappointing – I hope that maybe they’ll settle into it, but then again, the design and running order of the show must have been based on the logic of avoiding talking about the book for ‘too long’. As well as being a reader and a writer, I used to be paid for coming up with TV ideas, and I know it’s a really tough sell, but there are programmes which have pulled it off (have just blogged about this, and linked to your post). Fingers crossed that they’re having a major rejig right now…

Hearing of these reviews, I’m even more glad for Australia’s First Tuesday Book Club. Perhaps all you excellent Brit bloggers should launch your own t.v book show. 🙂

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