113MC Task 1 By David Johnson In this task I will compare the two magazine shows Top Gear and Russell Howard’s Good News.
Since both of these programmes are magazine shows, it is possible to draw comparisons between them and literal magazines, as well as eachother. Top Gear can be considered as the broadcasted version of several motoring magazines such as Autocar (which is partially ran by the same staff) and of course its own magazine, Top Gear. Russell Howard’s Good News comes from a less common but still significant genre, the political satire magazine. This genre comes in the form of Ian Hislop’s Private Eye magazine, which takes a humorous look at the news of the last fortnight. Russell Howard’s Good News however has some differences along with its many similarities with Private Eye.
The most notable difference is that Russell Howard’s Good News is aimed at a much younger audience. This is evident by the fact that while the jokes are presented in a similar way to Private Eye’s, they are often very sexual and are spoken with a much ‘younger’ register. Other examples in the media of trying to gain a teenage/young adult audience often fail by appearing too obvious and almost patronising, as if they were thought up by a focus group of parents. Yet Russell Howard has gained a young audience very successfully by the fact that (especially compared to other comedians) he is relatively young, presenting the news almost casually yet with a certain amount of exaggeration for his stand-up comedian style.
Audiance • To further convey the young/casual style of presentation, Russell Howard would show many VT-inserts that appear to be made with his friends and a relatively small budget, sometimes commenting on the production of the VT as if he only done it for a friendly bet. Top Gear also has a semi-informal style in the way that it has a standing audience surrounding the presenters and their cars, as if to purposely imitate motor shows/street races or outdoor social events. The audience forming a circle around presenters not only replicates motor shows but also conveys the presenters as the centre of attention, as if the audience have willingly moved closer to hear what the presenters are saying, rather than being sat down on studio chairs and watching whatever is placed in front of them.
The Top Gear team expresses this presentation style further by interacting with the audience, even asking the audience if they would like to see the upcoming VT-insert as if they have a say in the matter. The audience would inevitably shout “yes!”, giving the impression that the VT-insert is given by popular demand. Sometimes they will also ask them other questions, most notably how cool a car is on the ‘Cool Wall’. Russel Howard also regularly interacts with the audience, conforming with his ‘stand-up comedian’ background by commenting on the audience’s reaction, sometimes making a whole new joke from something that an audience member has said.
Studio Set/Layout • The set of Top Gear is an aircraft hanger-turned-car show, expressing how different and radical they are to other magazine shows. This style of ‘unique and pushing the boundaries’ is further shown by the aircraft hanger featuring several cars which featured in their many extreme challenges, such as James May’s Triumph Herald from the Amphibious Challenge, and the Toyota Pickup which has been mounted on a large plinth at the centre of the studio background ever since the team failed to destroy it in several challenges. The Toyota Pickup is also focused on during many of the establishing crane shots at the start of the shows.
Russell Howard’s Good News is quite different in terms of studio layout. The audience is sitting in front of a raised stage and there are no props used at all apart from the ‘mystery guest’ item and occasional jokes requiring a costume. The background changes with the topic, keeping a flow of variety to the visual background. This visual representation of subjects is further conveyed by the short animated stop-motion VT-inserts which involve some toys or other small objects with relate to the subject.
The use of stop-motion animation is also used in the intro titles (though probably with added computer effects too), with a miniature Russell Howard walking/climbing over radios and newspaper quotes. Top Gear’s titles are much more dramatic, using advanced post-production techniques to show the extreme challenges and fast cars. The music of the titles for Russell Howard’s Good News is ‘Fast Fuse’ by the band ‘Kasabian’, an alternative/indy rock track that suits the non-serious style of the program very well. Where as Top Gear’s title music is a somewhat modernised version of its famous intro theme that is more than 20 years old.
Structure/Items • Top Gear used to be much like its sister-magazine Autocar, being strictly about car reviews. But in the last 10 years Top Gear has drawn in an increasingly broader audience by being a car-based entertainment show, paving the way for its rival show Fifth Gear to fill the gap in the market, albeit with smaller viewing figures (Top Gear with 2.56 million compared to Fifth Gear not even making Five’s top 30 table according to BARB . Though having said this, Top Gear does still give car reviews. Given Top Gear’s relatively new format, it has its own magazine- the Top Gear Magazine.
The items on Russell Howard’s Good News often start with a short news clip selected in such a way to be the punch line of a quick joke. The main ‘bulk’ of the show being various news stories of the week, with the stories being split into segments such as “Law and Order” and “Religion”. The stories will be presented by Russell Howard and given a humorous spin with accompanied VT footage, sometimes given a further VT-insert in the form of a humorous re-enactment by Russell and what appears to be his friends; the same age as him and not professional actors. There is also a ‘Mystery Guest’ item, which involves Russell sitting down (and that is the only time he does sit during the show) with someone who has been in the news recently and Russell has to guess who they are. Living up to the show’s name, each episode always ends with a heart-warming story, typically of someone doing an extraordinarily good deed for a charitable cause.
As part of Top Gear’s bid to draw in a wider audience, they have a ‘star in a reasonably priced car’, the ‘Cool Wall’ and the challenges as well as the traditional car reviews. Relatively recently Top Gear has even devoted entire episodes to the challenges as ‘specials’; these being shot as boyish ‘adventures’ in Africa, Vietnam, the United States and South America.
Top Gear is different from Russell Howard’s Good News and indeed many other programmes in the way that it has three permanent presenters, plus the mysterious ‘Stig’. This choice works in two ways; giving more presentational variety as well as working with its ‘laddish social event’ style, each presenter having positive and negative aspects to make up a balanced trio.