British TV network to trawl for author – critic smackdown

The Bookseller reported last week that Britain’s ITV intends to launch a prime-time books show — “Between the Covers” — to be hosted by Tony Cowell, “brother of the acerbic ‘Pop Idol’ judge Simon Cowell.” Planned features include author interviews, book reviews and “glimpses behind the publishing process.”

In the weekend’s Sunday Times, John Dugdale opined that the show’s success is doubtful:

Plans for a Lit Idol strand modelled on Pop Idol look particularly unpromising, given the glaring differences between singing and writing and the lack of a comparable tradition of performance (except in poetry, but the contest will be confined to prose genres). But one Jerry Springer-like idea — “asking readers to review a book, unaware the author is waiting backstage” — is certainly appealing; one looks forward to Kathy Lette confronting her critics, or Fischer v Amis, or our own Peter Kemp being ambushed by Philip Hensher or Louis de Bernieres.

Are they nuts? Given the batterings and other abuses suffered by book critics in recent months, they’re at least courting a smackdown, if not a Jenny Jones-style homicide.

On second thought, this is Britain, where Tibor Fischer’s attack on Martin Amis’ latest novel (Fischer famously said that reading the book is akin to discovering that your “favourite uncle” has been “caught in a school playground, masturbating”) prompted a bit of hand-wringing in the literary world but didn’t incite violence.


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