British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Film Review Shows


Launched in 1993, Moviewatch was a weekly film review show, developed by Channel 4’s commissioning editor for youth, Bill Hilary.  The series was initially fronted by a team of young presenters, which included Philip Edgar Jones, Tania Guha and Laurie Pike.  Television newcomer Johnny Vaughan joined the team as lead presenter in the second episode, with Guha, Edgar Jones and Pike taking on secondary roles for the remainder of the series.  A natural in front of the camera, Vaughan would continue to host the programme until it ended, becoming one of a generation of young stars to receive their big break on Channel 4 in the 1990s.

Moviewatch’s content and style of production contrasted starkly with that of Visions.  Broadcast between 18:00 and 18:30pm on Sunday evenings the series targeted a young audience with its light, breezy mode of address, bold production design and dynamic editing.  Each week the programme visited a different city in the UK, taking up residence in a local cinema or other suitable community space.  As an Additional Information section of the weekly press pack noted, the new series (first broadcast on 17th January 1993) ‘looks at everything to do with movies in a new, fresh, out-and-about style’. At the start of each episode Vaughan introduced the week’s panel of film reviewers, which consisted of individuals selected from the local community.  The members of this panel were aged predominantly between 18 and 25, reflecting the composition of Moviewatch’s key target demographic.  In visiting the regions and allowing ordinary members of the public to become cultural critics, the programme arguably contributed to Channel 4’s public service remit, promoting diversity and the presentation of culturally diverse communities on the small screen.  Nevertheless, this was populist programming, which assessed mainstream cinema releases for the benefit of a youthful television audience capable of attracting substantial advertising revenue.  Indeed, despite its original claim to be ‘a real alternative to traditional studio-bound film review programmes’, only a cursory level of attention was paid to the programme’s regional locations, which were established at the start of each episode, and this distinctive aspect was sidelined during later series when Moviewatch moved to a studio setting.

There could be no suggestion that this was another sycophantic film review programme whose hosts were in the pockets of the distribution sector.  Indeed, Vaughan and his co-presenters went out of their way to be irreverent, instigating silly pranks and, on occasion, actively goading directors in order to provoke heated responses from them.  For instance, an episode broadcast in February 1996 included a particularly uncomfortable encounter with Martin Scorsese, which was intended to publicise his film Casino (1995).  During the course of the interview Vaughan asks Scorsese for details of his favourite pasta recipe, comments on actor Joe Pesci’s diminutive stature and carries out a number of playful stunts.  When Scorsese stands up to leave at the end of the interview he admonishes Vaughan, stating that their time together could have been used far more productively.  This exchange provides an example of the antics that contributed to Moviewatch’s status as enfant terrible of British film review programming in the ‘90s.  Indeed, when being interviewed for the series on one occasion, Sylvester Stallone nervously described it as ‘that cruel show’.[5]

With a lead male presenter in the form of the youthfully exuberant Vaughan, Moviewatch reinforced the film review programme’s status as a traditionally masculine sphere.  However, he did have a number of female co-presenters over the years, all of whom provided distinct contributions to the series.  The first of these was American presenter Laurie Pike, who initially fronted a Hollywood gossip segment before later branching out into celebrity interviews, which were included alongside Vaughan’s own features and the programme’s weekly reviews.  When Pike left the series this co-hosting format continued, first with British presenters Caroline Tudor and Sally Gray during the 1995 to 1996 period and then with Texan Alex MacLeod who co-hosted with Vaughan from 1996 to 1998.  Although allowed to take part in this traditionally masculine sphere, the female presenters were given secondary roles, dealing with light industry news and providing a foil to Vaughan’s light-hearted banter.  Furthermore, MacLeod frequently engaged in flirtatious interactions with the stars that she interviewed and the popular press generally focused on her sexuality, describing her using terms such as ‘sexy stunner’ and ‘TV babe’.[6] It can be argued that these women occupied a similar role to the female assistants on popular British entertainment programmes and game shows during this period, providing a feminine aesthetic that acted as a counterpoint to the masculinity of the programme’s host, whilst ultimately failing to develop their role as film critics.

Moviewatch was the first Channel 4 series to bring film to a youth audience, occupying an early evening slot that made it far more accessible than Visions’ late-night instalments.  Scheduled alongside other popular British teen programmes and American imports, it attracted a substantial audience when contrasted with other series broadcast in the same time slot.  Although its relationship with the British regions diminished as each series progressed, it can be argued that the programme did attempt to democratise the process of film reviewing, providing a forum in which ordinary individuals from a range of backgrounds could take part in this typically rarefied activity.

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