Sunday, 13 May 2018


69. “I'll take you down now, I'll make you watch me”

Netta, 2018 winner (Israel)
Well, I began my preparations for watching this year’s Eurovision Song Contest final, being held in Lisbon, Portugal, and my word processor was ready in front of me, then a nagging thought hit me – yes, I have written about the contest before and, yes, it was only last year [link]. However, the reason I had no other subject on which I could fall back was because the rest of this evening – and, literally, the rest of the day – would be taken up by Eurovision.

The programme began at 8pm, and finally ended at 11.50pm, which was only fifteen minutes later than anticipated – it had been already approaching “Gone with the Wind” territory, but then blew past it. When the UK last hosted the final, in 1998, it ended just after the three-hour mark, mostly because that night’s winner, Dana International, was late reaching the stage to pick up the trophy. When ABBA won the contest in 1974, when the UK held it in Brighton, it was all over after 2 hours 11 minutes – no “Avengers” film is shorter than that.

I had been prepared to put the increasing length of the contest down to bloat: the final now has an opening ceremony of sorts, where the performers proceed onto stage behind their country’s flag in an Olympics-style set-up. This procession followed two other songs, and the presenters for the evening did not reach the stage until 13 minutes into the programme. What is more, once the twenty-six songs were sung, the time was still only just past 10pm, with interval acts and results still to come. 
SuRie, singing for the UK, plus protestor and stage manager

In mainland Europe, TV audiences are more used to their programmes going on for the entire evening. For example, once the main 8pm news has finished on French TV channels, the documentary, drama, discussion show or film that follows will last for at least two hours, finishing past 11pm: nothing is apparently better than the prospect of three hours of the French version of “MasterChef.” Imported shows, like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (or, as TF1 calls it, “The Experts”) will air two or three episodes put together. Meanwhile, the archetypal European show, the German-Austrian-Swiss extravaganza, “Wetten, Dass..?”, usually lasted two and a half hours, but featured games, celebrity interviews and music performances that normally made three separate shows: the British version, “You Bet!”, kept only the games, and finished after an hour.

However, the main reason Eurovision takes so long nowadays is, I think, the same reason the UK has not won in over twenty years: more countries want to compete, and those countries already produced great songs. The collapse of the Easter European communist bloc meant a pre-screening round was needed to produce the list of twenty-five countries for the final, which became a full televised semi-final, which became two semi-finals – the logistics of putting on this spectacle, and watching it, now approaches Olympic proportions. Israel won this year, but they literally will pay for it next year.

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