Call me old-fashioned, but stand-up rows on prime-time Saturday night TV strike me as unedifying and unprofessional. Which is probably why ITV is coming out so solidly on top in the Pop Idol vs. Fame Academy stakes: it’s got less to lose, less to prove. But watching crusty head-man Richard Park spitting at vacuous fop-top presenter Patrick Kielty it strikes me that there is something more unsettling going on here than just the BBC trying and failing to do ‘popular’ TV.

Park tells Kielty that the latter just wants a feel-good family show in which everyone is ‘brilliant’: which is why his criticisms are getting jeered by the mic-wielding man of the people. Whether or not these rows are scripted and rehearsed, Park inadvertently puts his finger on what Fame Academy’s Saturday-night show-downs represent. The studio audience, composed largely of friends and relatives, will cheer each competitor however poor their performance: and consequently shout down any of the judges who might dare to differ. In the form of a seedy talent show, The BBC have put the very principle of critical judgement on trial, and rigged the court-room in favour of mob-rule.

This might at first appear to be a showdown between populism and elitism, between the vigilante gangs who don’t care about the difference between a paedophile and a paediatrician, and the stuck-up snobs who dare believe that ‘ shock horror ‘ some things are better than others. But like the New Labour ordinary-bloke rhetoric so accurately skewered by Nick Cohen in the Observer, the insidious erasure of all critical standards does not serve the public but those same elites which always profit off the false transparency of the market.

All right for Kielty to root for whatever no-mark loser happens onto his stage ‘ his number is already quite cushy enough, thank-you. The man of the people is always the overman: turning the tables on the judges makes for crowd-pleasing spectacle, but when the game runs its course, the people have still lost, while the principle of criticism, the possibility of speaking truth to populist power, has been buried for good.