Mark Watson Kicks Off Radio-Inspired Show

Sports fans may already be familiar with the concept of Mark Watson's new show (Thurs, ITV4, 10.35pm). The comedian's upcoming panel series is hoping to emulate the success of Five Live's radio series Fighting Talk, by bringing a tweaked format to TV. We caught up with the host to discuss how the transition has gone, and why Barack Obama would make the perfect guest... Mark Watson Kicks Off is basically a TV version of Fighting Talk on 5 Live. Where did the idea to turn the radio show into a TV series come from?
Mark Watson: It's been mooted for quite a long time because it's a very popular format on the radio and it seems like the sort of thing that can, in theory, transfer across to TV quite easily. They tried it once before, years ago, and it didn’t quite work out.

In a way it should be quite an easy show to make for TV now because it's just some people sitting around chatting and that's what a lot of TV is these days. It's asking to be done, really. At the same time though, there is a danger that people will watch it and say "Oh I loved the radio show but this is tacky." Or people will regard it as some sort of a compromised version. I'm hoping it will find an identity of its own, separate from the radio show.

There must be quite a few considerations to make when making this transition...
Yeah, it's easy to think that because something works really well on radio that you can do the exact same thing on TV, but of course radio is a lot of talking and that's why people listen to it. But people don't tend to tune into a TV show to see a lot of talking, they expect to be stimulated on slightly more levels than that.

How does the TV show differ from the radio one then?
There’s a wider range of rounds on the TV show. On the radio it's basically all variations on the same round: there's a topical sporting question and everyone kind of has their say, and it's an hour long. On TV it would be a bit repetitive to do that so there are more rounds involving clips and things on screens. There are also more bells and whistles in this version; I suppose you’d say it has more of a game show feel to it, whereas the radio show feels more like a semi-serious discussion.

The radio show is still pretty tongue in cheek, but it is a fairly heavyweight sports talk. The TV show has to be a bit more like light entertainment and a little bit less like people chatting about sport, otherwise not that many people would watch it.

It will be a souped-up version of the radio show. The idea is to do a sports based show that still appeals to non sports people. It’s probably sportier than something like James Corden’s show on Sky. It’s slightly less messing around than that and there's more actual punditry, but at the same time it should still be fairly broad in its appeal.

Where did the name for the show come from?
It's mostly a legal thing: this is on ITV and they're not allowed to use the same Fighting Talk title. My name's ended up being on the show because of a technicality. But that makes it even stranger, because when it was originally pitched I never expected it to carry my name in quite this way. It does make me feel a bit more responsible for it; it makes me feel more like the figurehead of a show. Plus, it's odd to see my name in the Radio Times in that way; in bold.

In every episode guests are asked to put their own spin on the week's sporting news. How do they go about doing that?
The idea is to encourage strong opinions, even if they’re completely indefensible. Although it's aimed at people who are really keen on sport--and the guests will be people that also know their sport--it’s not so much about trying to say the most sensible or useful thing. It's more about being controversial or provocative; it's about trying to take the piss out of sports events in creative ways. For example, a sports personality guest will have inside knowledge that they’ll add, whereas other people will be comedians who will take a much less serious tone. It's about a range of people bringing their specific perspectives to sports. When I'm on the radio show for example I talk mostly nonsense and insult everyone, whereas some people who are football managers or sports journalists tend to have a little bit more of an informed point of view.

What guests have you got lined up so far?
To be honest I'm not that sure because they’re still trying to finalise it. There will be people that are regulars from the radio show, who are mostly sports journalists or figures with an interest in sport, like Bob Mills for example. Then there are out-and-out sports people. Basically, every week there will be one comedian, one sports person and then one journalist or general sports pundit.

Editorial note: guests since confirmed include Mock the Week regular Andy Parsons and former rugby player Austin Healey.

Is the idea not to make it too sports-heavy?
Yes. It will certainly never be all people from the world of sport, there will always be at least one comedian plus me so the bias will be in favour of entertaining conversation. Even the people that are from the world of sport will be sports people with a track record of being amusing, where possible. No really boring people.

Who would be your ultimate guest panel?
Barack Obama is a bit of a basketball fan, he’d be good. He’s obviously busy but he’d be a good guest in theory. Alongside him you’d need some people that were prepared to stand up to him and not take any rubbish. So, getting Noel Gallagher, who’s a football fan, alongside him would be good. That would give you space to have a slightly lesser known comedian like Tim Key. Obama, Key and Gallagher would be a decent panel. But there's always booking issues with these people, I don’t even know who Obama’s agent is to be honest...

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