There are undoubtedly better things to be doing on a Friday night - one friend has updated her facebook status to note that she will be drinking jager bombs in Piccadilly this evening, and that's one option. As it happens, I ended up half-heartedly watching Newsnight in between social reading sessions ("Team of Rivals" still). Half-heartedly, until I saw the neutering of that once fearsome interviewer, Jeremy Paxman. Quite why a significant section of the BBC's premier news show was devoted to the essentially frivolous (when he's not being essentially offensive) character of Russell Brand is unclear. Maybe it's a slow news day, this day when Rahm Emanuel decided to leave the White House to run for Mayor of Chicago, and Pervez Musharaff looked as if he might be getting back into Pakistani politics. Whatever the reason, we got a ludicrously light interview with a man whose celebrity (Brand) remains both inexplicable and bizarre. Paxman grinned away at the motormouth before him, failing completely to ask any sort of challenging question, reverting really to the sort of deference his ilk once reserved for politicians - "Tell us, Mr. Brand [cue disastrous grin], have you anything more to tell the nation?" Brand talks quickly to disguise the superficiality of his views, and Paxman, the feared interrogator of wimpish politicians, drinks it all up. This is really just a little media love-fest. Paxman and Brand are united in their contempt for the BBC management that pays or paid them so much, and had a cute 20 minutes or so to chuckle together about it. Paxman offered Brand the current BBC compliance forms for him to mock, and bought wholesale Brand's considerable re-vamping of his pathetic phone call to Andrew Sachs. From a politician such revisionism would have provoked his utmost ire and contempt - from Brand, it provoked nothing but nodding agreement.
If this really is the best that Friday night Newsnight can come up with, they could save a lot of money by replacing the well-paid Paxman with a cheaper low-budget variety show. Or they could leave characters like Brand in the celebrity bubble they inhabit and venture out into the real world for some hard news instead.