Traditionally, whenever live music TV has managed to gatecrash the Friday night television schedules, it has provided an outlet for youthful rebellion.
From the heyday of The Tube to the horrors of The Word, via the Britpop pomp of the original TFI Friday, these broadcasts thrived on the unpredictability of live TV. Some of British TV’s most memorable moments came out of such shows. Even Top Of The Pops – which briefly owned the Friday 7.30pm slot in the era when the BBC was busy shunting it around the schedules like an unwanted relative at Christmas – had the potential to open a generation gap between any parents and children watching.
Sounds Like Friday Night may occupy the same day of the week to its predecessors, but it does not inhabit similar territory. The show – which debuted to a respectable 2.2 million average viewers and reviews/online reaction best described as “mixed” – is, instead, an unashamedly mainstream, family-friendly take on what the intro somewhat optimistically called “the best music from the UK and around the world”. Despite co-presenter Ashley “A.Dot/Dotty” Charles’ demand to “put your tea down for this bit, Nan”, ahead of Kurupt FM’s brief appearance, there was little to agitate the nation’s Grandmas here.
The bigger question is if there was enough to engage the nation’s music fans, young or old. For a start, you have to wonder if the music industry couldn’t have lined up a more eye-catching opening headliner than Jason Derulo, given how long it’s been crying out for such a show, and the number of stars currently promoting Q4 releases.
Derulo was game, with his enthusiasm just about counter-balancing the forced banter about EastEnders’ Pat Butcher (no, really). But his basketball skills (which saw him shooting hoops despite being distracted by Dotty, co-presenter Greg James and a Mariachi band in one of the show’s signature skits) were not matched by his ability to carry a show single-handedly. More charismatic figures may be needed for future episodes.
James and Dotty proved personable and surprisingly slick presenters given their newness to live TV, although the interviews were less than enlightening (especially the chat with Jessie Ware, where she seemed to be asked about almost every musician on earth apart from herself).
Similarly, the skits. The Dave Grohl sketch was sadly not as funny as everyone involved seemed to think it was, while nothing seems to have gone viral on YouTube as yet, suggesting SLFN’s own Carpool Karaoke (as created by SLFN producers Fulwell 73) moment is a way off.
Which leaves the live performances, which came from Derulo, Charlie Puth, Ware and Derulo again. The biz will no doubt be pleased that this was by far the strongest element of the new venture, although that rather begs the question as to why there weren’t more of them (only four songs in a 30-minute show). A more eclectic mix of artists could also have helped, with all the songs a little one-paced. If you’re the kind of person that gets excited about an “unplugged” version of Jason Derulo’s Want To Want Me, then this was the show for you. But then again, how many of those people are there out there?
But for all these caveats, SLFN – as we will have to get used to calling it – represents a huge opportunity for the biz to get music back on primetime TV and there was enough here to suggest it could flourish as a format, given some tweaks – and some stellar guests – over the coming weeks.
The industry will be watching the midweeks closely to see what sort of benefit Derulo, Puth and Ware receive from the first show, while next week promises a more volatile mix, with Liams Payne and Gallagher both in attendance. Here’s hoping that might produce some genuinely memorable TV moments – and maybe even put the nation’s Nans’ best china in danger…