The demise of Channel 4 has been slow and painful for those of us who still remember it as hard-hitting, satirical and self-assuredly nonconformist, but it was abruptly brought into focus the other night by Lorraine Kelly’s “Battle of the diets” show Super Slim Me.
Taking its title by punning a trendy, liberal documentary does not disguise the fact that this was daytime pap dressed as serious primetime investigative journalism. Sadly, any intellectual credence the programme-makers attempted to inject by introducing a stuffy GP to analyse the diets, was swiftly quashed by the sight of the mumsy Kelly asking a raft of tubby women about whether eating nothing but lentils for a couple of weeks had given them “windypops”.
Anyone concluding that this was merely an alarming anomaly should consider that Kelly is pepping up the Channel 4 schedules still further with an appearance alongside fellow MOR lard bucket Eamon Holmes in the unpromisingly titled Celebrity Fitness Videos – Not Fit For TV.
Speaking of which… Should Kelly be allowed outside the confines of daytime ITV? Should Kelly be allowed out at all? Perhaps she should be banished to a nice comfy cell, disguised for her own benefit as a GMTV set, and allowed to witter away with Dr. Hilary Jones and Russell Grant to her heart’s content twenty-four hours a day. Frankly, I’m not sure she would even notice.
Am I alone in thinking her opinion is only of any use to sofa-slumped fishwives and comatose shift workers who guzzle her trite enthusiasm greedily as they contemplate that eternal daytime TV question: Should I go out and get some fresh air, or shall I simply sit here in my pants for the rest of the day?
But should we really be shocked to see this Queen of Trivial Crap on Channel 4?
Or is it just symptomatic of an irreversible slide? Even the C4 News, that bastion of liberal thought is degenerating into a gimmicky sell-out, slowly squeezing out substance in favour of style. Jon Snow, the former bete noir of politicians everywhere, now looks like his heart is no longer in it. Sad to say, Snow has become a stumbling oaf who can’t read an autocue and acts like he’s permanently in a postprandial slump watching the Eastenders omnibus with a nice glass of port. And who can blame him? Back in the day, just wearing a stupid tie and being rude to interviewees was enough to render him peerless in television news, now he has to contend with bells and whistles and graphics – and just as he’s getting his teeth into another sleazy MP, he’s told to wind it up and introduce a pert colleague’s fluffy story about pandas.
A channel cannot subsist on imported sitcoms, and while the latest additions (Everybody Loves Raymond, My Name is Earl) maintain an impressive tradition, Channel 4 has an annoying habit of sticking them out on a Friday night, when, ten years ago I never watched because I was out in the pub getting ignored by girls, and now I never watch because I’m invariably sitting at home in a merlot-induced stupor after a week at the proverbial coal-face.
I will not sit here and slag off list shows, because at least Channel 4 did them first and I admit to finding them strangely addictive. They need to spruce up the cast every so often though – my tolerance for the smarming antics of Paul Morley and Stuart Marconi has, I fear, run out.
But the original programming, especially those shows which seek to court controversy, has become almost unwatchable. Take religion. While I may previously have proudly and faithfully swallowed 4's free-thinking agnosticism, it has now shifted from avante garde and interesting to downright offensive.
Over Christmas, viewers were treated to a couple of idiots who claimed to be able to recreate the miracles of Jesus – walking on water, turning water into wine and generally grinning inanely and looking terribly pleased with themselves. “Look at us – we are like Jesus!” was the gist, from which I can only conclude that Jesus must have been a knob-head media tosser who spent large amounts of time wanking and laughing uncontrollably at Jimmy Carr gags.
Almost worse, the other night, The Root of all Evil basically informed us that religion was all a sack of shit, and that all believers were stupid. Richard Dawkins, an unattractive, nasal science geek battled cerebrally with an evangelical preacher from Salt Lake City who apparently holds weekly conference calls with George Bush. I having nothing against making bigoted zealots look like idiots, but to utterly condemn all faiths as rubbish while only offering a monotonous endorsement of Darwin as a riposte is utterly pointless.
At least it ripped the piss out of ludicrous American neo-conservatism, but that is not hard – Louis Theroux does it a million times better, and with a warmth that seems to have been sucked from all Channel 4’s current programming.
Because, looking at the schedules now, there is pretty much nothing I want to watch. All the good films have been pimped out to FilmFour and the interesting documentaries are all on More4, leaving the creaking mothership in the slippery hands of Davina McCall.
Five is beating them with the imported cop shows (CSI) – the Beeb is thrashing them with comedy and drama (The Thick of it, QI, Life on Mars). ITV… Well things haven’t slipped that much.
But the original programming is surely at an all time low. Channel 4’s evening output is little more than an unwelcome proliferation of “experts” pouring scorn on us:
8pm: You are what you Eat
Gillian McKeith tells members of the public: “You are fat and your shit stinks.” To which a more than adequate response would surely be: “At least I am not a withered shrew with puckered dog’s arse lips and possibly the most punchable face in television history.”
8.30pm: Property Ladder
Patronising, perma-pregnant presenter Sarah Beeny dresses up her contemptuous delivery with syrupy, concerned voice-overs: “I’m worried John and Brenda haven’t put enough work into their budget.” She might as well be saying: “You fucking peasants – you think you can install an en suite? Call that a loft conversion? I, with my peerless industry knowledge garnered through years of taking it any which way from ruddy-faced Estate Agents, am perfectly positioned to tut disapprovingly at every disastrous home improvement decision you make. You. Plebian. Scum.”
9.30pm: 10 Years Younger
Weird blonde alien presenter browbeats ropy looking heifers into plastic surgery and unpleasant dental work. At the end they look a bit younger. Still ugly though.
It is surely this outrageous arrogance and disrespect for the average joe that is slowly alienating a once thriving audience. Channel 4 are by no means the only culprits but they tend to sneer more.
A case study: Cooking. The BBC offer us the avuncular Rick Stein and his gentle endorsements of unsung British food heroes; gnome-faced Anthony Worrall Thompson may look frightening but is actually a surprisingly caustic wit; Even ham-acting man-mountain Ainsley Harriot chortles affably through Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook without ripping his guests to shreds.
Who do Channel 4 have on their books? Gordon “You are all fucking shit” Ramsey.
And, to top it all, after seven hugely successful years culminating in England winning the Ashes and providing them with their biggest daytime audiences ever, Channel 4 decide to sack off the cricket, no doubt in favour of some further PC claptrap.
Maybe there’s the rub. Maybe it’s me. Maybe my politics have sneaked unwittingly to the right and are no longer compatible with C4’s loony lefties. It is certainly a worry when I find myself reading Richard Littlejohn columns and nodding sagely. I confess that while I once bought the Sun purely for smug, post-modern, fun-poking purposes, I now cannot board a tube without a copy for fear of missing an episode of Striker.
On Saturday mornings, I take my coffee and toast with the Times crossword and the Sun – cover to cover. Indeed, the only page I tend to skip is the one where Lorraine Kelly talks about ice cream and Brad Pitt’s abs. It’s only a matter of time…
Reality bites: The new faces of Channel 4 (Clockwise from top left: Lorraine Kelly, Sarah Beeny, Nicky Hambleton-Jones and Gillian McKeith)