SÉAMAS O’REILLY

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - CRITICAL THINKING CONSENT -

“Well this is awk­ward” tweeted @BBCTwo last Sun­day, a few min­utes into its sched­uled pro­gram­ming for the evening. The show they had been air­ing, In­side No 9, had come a crop­per due to sound is­sues in its much-an­tic­i­pated live Hal­loween episode, lead­ing to sev­eral apolo­getic tweets, an er­ror card and, fi­nally, a state­ment that they would re-air a clas­sic episode in­stead. Fans of the dark/com­edy hor­ror an­thol­ogy were aghast, with 20 per cent chang­ing the chan­nel there and then, and oth­ers re­spond­ing in­stantly with con­fu­sion, anger and ir­ri­ta­tion.

“FFS” tweeted Karl Murch, one of hun­dreds who com­plained in kind, “was re­ally look­ing for­ward to In­side No.9 live! Tech­ni­cal prob­lems 5 mins in and so it can­celled!”.

The “live episode” is a time-hon­oured tra­di­tion, and one fraught with prat­falls for even the most so­phis­ti­cated pro­duc­ers, which may ex­plain why it hasn’t been utilised to its full po­ten­tial on mod­ern TV. As live en­ter­tain­ment dom­i­nates the on­line land­scape in ways that might shock even avid in­ter­net users – livestream­ing ac­counted for 75 per cent of in­ter­net traf­fic last year – its use in drama is still slight.

As part of its 30-year an­niver­sary in 2015, Easten­ders mounted an en­tire week of live shows, so view­ers could hear their favourite char­ac­ters say things like “leave it out” and “what about me, howdya fink I feel?” mere sec­onds after they were ut­tered on set.

In 1997, ER kicked off its fourth se­ries with a land­mark live episode that even fea­tured the camera pan­ning in on char­ac­ters watch­ing a base­ball game that was hap­pen­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Most im­pres­sive of all, the cast and crew had to do the en­tire episode twice, with a run-through for each coast, broad­cast two hours apart.

Of course, none of this came close to the achieve­ment of In­side No. 9, which quickly showed their de­trac­tors they’d been conned. Shortly after the “er­ror mes­sage”, the re­place­ment episode they were show­ing went off air and was re­placed by CCTV footage of its writer/stars Steve Pem­ber­ton and Reece Shear­smith in the green room who, in ER style, switched the chan­nels on their TV to prove they were very much live. In a par­tic­u­larly in­ge­nious touch, Shear­smith tweeted his fol­low­ers to ask what was go­ing on, a mes­sage seen by ev­ery­one watch­ing things un­fold with phone in hand. Not long after, dozens of view­ers took to Twit­ter to re­cant on their pre­vi­ous dis­ap­point­ment.

It would be crass to give spoil­ers, but the en­su­ing episode de­serves to go down as one of the bold­est half hours of tele­vi­sion this year, and one of the best uses of so­cial me­dia ever de­vised. In­side No 9’s live episode showed that, how­ever old a tech­nique might be, you can still find new ghosts in the ma­chine.

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