Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery, now in its third series, seems to have run out of funny people to take back to their childhood and interview. Kinda. This time ‘round there’ll only be three comedians – Matt Lucas, Alan Davies and Jo Brand – the rest of the shows will feature the likes of Ita Buttrose, Leigh Sales, Waleed Aly, Mandy McElhinney, Kurt Fearnley, Matt Moran, Billy Bragg, and tonight’s guest Ian Thorpe.
On the one hand that’s fine – the show’s format can work with non-comedians, and the celebrities featured are (for the most part) well-liked and interesting. But on the other hand, once you move away from focusing on comedians, who will usually keep the laughs going no matter what the question, you get in to serious interview territory, where unless you ask a decent question the show dies. Or to put it another way: Ita Buttrose won’t make up for your bad question by being funny. Ever.
Which begs the question, is Zemiro any good as a serious interviewer? Based on tonight’s episode, not so much. Ian Thorpe’s an interesting guy but his story is well known – he’s been in the public eye for around 20 years and Michael Parkinson got him to talk about the topics he’d been coy about in the past – his sexuality and his depression – last year. Basically, if Zemiro wanted to get “exciting revelations” or even “something interesting” out of Thorpe she was going to have to find a new angle, and taking him back to the pool where he learnt to swim didn’t really do the job. Even Thorpe’s old boxing coach could only say something we already know: he’s a nice guy.
The whole “taking people back to places from their childhood” angle is a nice idea but it’s really just a gimmick; it would be possible to get pretty much the same stories out of this show’s subjects in a more trad interview set-up. The missing element for this series is the research. Criticise Enough Rope all you like, we certainly have, but that show nailed its serious interviews (and its comic ones, for that matter) through research. A Quiet Word With…, Tony Martin’s short-lived interview series with comedians, also worked because Martin knew a lot about the people he was talking to.
As for Julia Zemiro, she’s a friendly, warm person genuinely trying to get interesting stories, but she’s going about it all wrong. You don’t just have to know a bit about your subject, you have to know a lot. And more importantly you have to know more than the audience does, because they’ll only be interested in your interview if they learn something. And about Ian Thorpe we’ve learnt nothing new tonight.