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Interview


Violet Berlin has very kindly given up some of her time to answer the following questions about her time on and since Bad Influence! exclusively for Bad-influence.co.uk. From the time Violet was just starting out, looking through moving companies and packing her stuff to leave school, to now, she has gained a wealth of gaming knowledge.

Thanks go to Violet for her input.

 

What were you doing before Bad Influence!?

Violet: I worked in children's programmes since leaving University. Started off writing and researching for a Saturday morning show called The Wide Awake Club, then one called WACADAY, then got asked to continue writing, but also to present for a show on new satellite channel BSB, shortly to become BSkyB. It was a live Saturday and Sunday afternoon magazine show called Cool Cube. I was the only one of the presenters who actually worked behind the scenes on the programme, so I tended to present the stuff where you needed a certain amount of expert knowledge, and also stuff I was interested in. 

Violet Berlin

This meant that one of my many 'slots' was the video game slot. (By the way, I contend that this was the first weekly reviewing of video games on TV). I used to get kids to review the games, but obviously I'd play them myself so I knew what I was talking about. This lead to my becoming totally obsessed with Castlevania on the NES... and that's how it all began! After Cool Cube finished, I got a job presenting an animal show called WildBunch for CBBC, which I hated, so I got to a kind of a crisis and didn't know what to do next, so I played Legend of Zelda on the NES, and did a bit of traveling around Eastern Europe, and mucked about on my computer until...

 

How did you get the job on Bad Influence!?

A mate of mine who works in telly saw an advert in the TV trade magazine Broadcast for someone to write and research for a kids computer show. Well, everybody I knew used to ask me about computer advice, and knew I was into computer and video games, and he knew that I was looking for a job, so he mentioned it to me. I wrote off saying I'd write scripts, or research, or present or do anything, as I had experience in everything and knew about the subject. Really, all I was hoping for was the chance to get some free computer games, as I was skint and the new Mega Man game was out soon. Anyway, they asked me to present it, so I did.

 

How long did each show take to record? 

One day. In the first three series, Nam Rood's bits were done in the morning, then the kids' game reviews, then studio rehearsal... then, after school was out, the children for the audience turned up to mill around the studio playing games during recording. So, our bit took less than a couple of hours to do. Oh, and the film inserts from the US etc. would take a day or less to film. In the fourth series, my Virtual Violet slot took half an hour to record all the various bits which were then cut together.

 

Did anything ever go very wrong recording the programme? 

Always. Computers never do what they're supposed to, especially when the pressure's on, and especially when the games are early versions. Also, once we were reviewing a four player go-kart game for the PC and in the 'hellos' at the top of the show, I was supposed to drive this kart round the studio while I was talking to camera. Anyway, I got a bit carried away and mowed down part of the set. That was probably my stupidest mistake.

 

What did you enjoy most about working on the show? 

Getting to try out a lot of cool kit long before everyone else; enjoying the company of Andy Wear (the actor who played Nam Rood) and Steve the researcher (then Associate Producer, then my co-presenter on Bad Influence!-spin off 'Bad Level 10'), as we'd always go for a drink the night before recording; filming on location - especially in Japan (my favourite moment on the show was probably reporting on the launch of the N64 and Mario 64 from Japan); in the last series, coming up with my 'Virtual Violet' slot was also very satisfying, and - having spent quite a lot of time playing games and also thinking quite a lot about them - it was very rewarding creating, writing and presenting my own opinion-strand on the subject.

 

Where did Nam and Z disappear to after the third series?

I hear from/of Nam (Andy) occasionally, through mutual friends when he's doing acting jobs for telly. As far as I know, he's still an actor. Before he was Nam Rood, I think he used to work for the Royal Shakespeare Company. I've no idea what Z Wright is up to now, as we didn't ever meet him. He was an American 17 year old who was an actor and didn't particularly know about games or anything.

 

Was there any rivalry between the Bad Influence! and GamesMaster camps?

Never. Even though we both covered video games, the shows ware so different that there was no point in comparing. Gamesmaster was a niche challenge show on C4. It was essentially a game-show (the C4 scheduling category it came under was 'Sport') aimed at teenage boys. The audience was five times smaller, although probably more fanatical. Bad Influence! on the other hand had was a mainstream children's ITV show with a remit to deliver factual entertainment about current technology and video games, with a duty to appeal to girls as well as boys and - in fact - to all walks of life, not just games-players. We saw our only competition as being whatever was on BBC1 at the same time as us, and we always beat whatever it was by some margin. It's possible that big Gamesmaster fans saw the two shows as rivals, and if the press is to be believed, Gamesmaster's presenter, Dominic Diamond was very scathing about our show (although, never to my face), but I guess that's because people like the drama of competition.

 

How does working on your more recent shows (Big Bang, Game Pad) compare with Bad Influence!?

They're filmed in totally different ways. When I look back now, with the benefit of 15 years in front of the camera, I can honestly say that presenting Bad Influence! was one of the hardest kinds of presenting going. You've got the pressures of an audience (hard to concentrate on talking to camera and playing a game at the same time when some kids behind you are discussing whether they're going to go to Macdonalds after the show); the two hour deadline; live technology demos with flakey pre-release code of games or software you've only had a quick look at; never an autocue in sight; several cameras and plenty to go wrong. Phew! It's no wonder I didn't have time to concentrate on getting better outfits and a more sensible haircut...

 

Who has been the best co-presenter to work with - Andy Crane or Gareth Jones?

Gareth Jones. Nothing against Andy, but not only have I co-presented several TV and radio shows with Gareth, but we've also set up WhizzBang TV together, he has directed all the series of Game-Pad we've made, and I've had two sons with him, so I must quite like him... 

 

In The Big Bang you have quite a different look, is this a new mature Violet? 

I don't ever consciously go for certain looks. However, when you're presenting a programme, people can get very annoyed if you change your hair or your look or something, as it messes up continuity (especially if you've filmed something one week that won't be airing for a month or so), also, if you've got a presenter showreel and publiticity photographs they immediately look out of date if you change how you look, so that's probably why the dramatic change... Also, I did get older and more sensible.

 

What was your favourite gaming era?

My favourite gaming era is still SNES and MD, because it was so fresh and new, and I probably played 90 per cent of all games that came out during that time. I don't spend time playing that old stuff now (except SNES games on my Game Boy Advance, for instance) though as there's so much that's new to be getting on with!

 

Your work led to you actually appearing in some video games yourself. Just how many have you appeared in?

I think there were five. There was Gabriel Knight 2, in which I was an extra with a couple of lines (we filmed the making-of feature in the States); there was Micro Machines 2, where I'm a playable character; there was a Cdi game called New Day, but I'm not sure if that ever made the light of day; my motion was captured for a Gremlin game called Normality Inc, and I was in an interactive CD-Rom developed by Peter Gabriel called 'Eve', in which - amongst other things - I fall out of a suitcase and start talking to you (apparently).

 

Bad Influence! lasted a quite respectable four series. What do you think kept it going? 

I think we did it by making an up-to-the minute, factually accurate, fun and relevant show for kids, celebrating a subject area that they knew more about than their parents.

 

Do you think the Bad Influence! format would work now with the current trends in video games? 

Yes, but it's not just the format, it's how you go about making it and the tone of the show, (and, also, to a certain extent, how much budget you have to allow you to pay attention to detail). A recent attempt at a kind of Bad Influence! type thing on CiTV - LAN Jam - missed the mark for lots of reasons. You definitely need at least one presenter who has an appreciation of games. You also need to work to get things happening on screen that will draw in the viewer - it's not just enough to have a bit of inept gameplay, or an expert talking about technology without doing any demonstration. And it's certainly not enough just to say "wicked" a lot while you're waving a PS2.