Monday, August 09, 2010


Over the years I have taken a close interest in music television formats. Ready Steady Go! was innovative in the swinging sixties in Great Britain while in France Dim Dam Dom was the appointment viewing for music fans. The came the Old Grey Whistle Test and then, more recently and with various format variants, Jools Holland.

But I have never seen a television music show as brilliant as Crooner, last night broadcast on the Arte channel. The three minute excerpt posted online give only a small hint of the one-hour show's true merits. The production design is innovative and mesmerizing. The dramaturgy is knowingly effortless with wit and emotion aplenty.

The show means to be a homage to the crooners of the fifties and sixties whose renditions of ballads which have become the 'standards' and sing-along memories for several generations.

But the stroke of genius was to package as a carefully structured program singing performances by actors, some of whom have little experience with this form of expression. "Of course!" I shouted out loud. Many actors have musical talent. All actors have undergone rigorous voice training. The lucky ones had schooling which also obliged them to dance and even practice fencing! Certainly many, as last night's show proved, can sing.

And this is one reason why I hope that Crooner will not remain a slightly experimental one-off special. As a format this is valid for a full season of shows, featuring the professional actors of thirteen European countries. There is the opportunity to establish a pop-cultural landmark. Inside The Actors Studio meets MTV Unplugged. Co-production between Arte and various national broadcasters should not be difficult to negotiate and the subsequent DVD and paid-for downloads... I am getting carried away!

While the first show, which I am determined to designate a pilot, was required to reflect Arte's Summer Of The Sixties season theme, there would be no need to limit the repertoire of a series to songs from that decade. More recent rock and pop ballads could be easily given the signature treatment which the production team imposed so well on the fifty-three minutes of pure entertainment.

The other reason why I hope so much that a series can follow is Sarah Murcia. I run out of mega-superlatives when I seek to describe her arrangements of the eleven 'standards' which were, especially in respect of her use of brass, exciting, unexpected, masterful and many things more. The video below hints at her originality and daring. Carrément géniale, la nana!

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