Killing The Goose

It’s an old trick, and an obvious one. When making a television programme whose likely audience will be composed of nerdy, adolescent males (of any age), put a pretty woman in it.

Philippa ForresterPhilippa Forrester was “the girl” in the BBC technology programme “Tomorrow’s World” (nerds again) in the 1990s, and was squeezed approximately into a black leather basque to host the UK version of “Robot Wars”. The sexy look was important, but had to be balanced by a cheerful, non-intimidating, girl-next-door personality. Nerds frighten quite easily.

Originally, “Scrapheap Challenge” was presented by the producer and originator of the show, Cathy Rogers, but normality was restored after the first few series with her replacement by a “model and actress”, Lisa Rogers (no relation) to play “the girl”.

Don’t get me wrong. The female presenter in these kinds of programme isn’t usually portrayed as stupid or ignorant. A giggling bubble-head wouldn’t work at all. The idea is to have someone that the nerds will idolize, and the idea that she might be able to discuss gear ratios or gaming tactics is part of the package. I say “idea” because it’s theoretical, obviously. Nerds are scared to talk to girls.

“Quest”, a free UK channel from the makers of the Discovery Channel for those of us who won’t pay for the Discovery Channel, is currently showing a mix of repeats of “Mythbusters”. Some of these go right back a decade or so to the first series when there were only the two male presenters, but there are also later ones where the producers had obviously got with the program and added women to the team.

For myself, I had a tiny television crush on Scottie Chapman who appeared in the second and third series. Scottie didn’t exactly fit the pattern I’ve been talking about, because she was actually a real engineer and mechanic, and attractive but not girly, with tattoos and a no-nonsense attitude. I guess that might mean that I’m not a true nerd, or I’ve grown up a bit, or something.

Mythbusters' Kari ByronBut when I was 17, I’d have been totally in love with Kari Byron, and even now I have to acknowledge that she’s very cute. This time the nerd chemistry is absolutely spot on: Kari is pretty, and girly, but gets her hands dirty with the experiments and is able to discuss intelligently what is going on.

The other day I wanted to check out a detail from the show and, via the usual internet search, got to their website and did my business. While I was there, I just happened to notice a set of Kari photo galleries. I JUST HAPPENED TO NOTICE, DAMMIT! I mean, that is completely to be expected. You’re playing to the nerds. Nerds like the girl, so give them photos. Stills and publicity shots from the programme set.

But you know how show business works. That isn’t enough. So there is a personal Kari website, and fan sites, and forums, and blogs, and interviews. And inevitably, glamour photoshoots. And that was where something went wrong. A shoot for FHM where the art director or the stylist or photographer or whoever knew exactly what a beautiful woman looks like. That is, exactly like every other woman in magazines.

Hair, makeup and clothes (or lack of) were done, and probably digital retouching afterwards, with the result that she doesn’t even look like the same person. Bland, anonymous “beauty”; and whatever that thing is that makes the nerds love her: they missed it. By a mile.

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