Look at yourself

That's you that is ('The Patron', by Ashley Bickerton)

That’s you that is
(‘The Patron’, by Ashley Bickerton)

‘Every evening in Britain, more than 20 million of us choose to spend a night in, in front of the telly’… well, isn’t it more than that?  More than 30 million?  But anyway, far be it  for me to nitpick about a wonderful programme.

The first of four episodes of Googlebox aired on Thursday night on Channel 4. We get to watch households watching the week’s TV programmes. It was terrific.

I like Gogglebox for the same reason I love watching Pointless.  There’s a big dose of market research at the heart of it – revealing what people know, what they look like and what they care about.  If Pointless is a survey of public knowledge, Gogglebox is like a focus group.  And it’s about relationships. With the TV, and with each other.

Gogglebox also offers body language and soft furnishings.  It’s a DFS commercial directed by Martin Parr.  Rich information, framed.

And sparkling dialogue.  Gay couple Stephen and Christopher, watching a man on Embarrassing Bodies.

Stephen: He is never gonna get a bird is he.


Christopher: Not now he’s been on this, no.

Posh man inspired by Top Gear: I could just absolutely go for fuck-arsing around Africa in a broken down car… What man wouldn’t want to do that with his mates?

It’s a reminder of how charming normal people are when we get a chance to observe them in their natural habitat.

Is it how people really watch TV?  Yes and no.  These aren’t all people, and their opinions are the ones they can think of, rather than more deep-seated emotional responses (though the respectful silence of the middle-aged Asian man when he was watching a baby being born was quite touching).  They know the cameras are on them…  But who cares when it’s so entertaining.  And Channel 4 deserves respect for casting (or recruiting, as we say in research) viewers (respondents) who in the main, resemble real people, not the idealised nuclear families you get when googling ‘watching television’.

The only disappointment – that fewer than a million people watched the first episode (you’d expect it to over-deliver on BARB panel members for a start).  Perhaps the passion people have for watching TV doesn’t extend to watching other people watching TV.  That might be something that gives the people behind Zeebox reason to pause…


  1. Lovely article! It reminds me of some work I did when I worked for Discovery Communications in Asia back in 2003. We put webcams in viewers’ living rooms to illustrate the powerful emotions that are experienced in front the telly.

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