Saturday, April 20, 2002 by

With the weight of history hanging on his eyelids, the fact that Mark Durden-Smith had obviously enjoyed one hell of a good night’s sleep didn’t bode well. We first saw the louche, preening Son-of-Chalmers a couple of minutes before 7am. Gargantuan shirt-collar unfurled, he self-consciously limbered up as if about to attempt a gruelling half-marathon, then summoned up every gram of nervous energy and tension in his body to make sure his opening comments were as offhand and meaningless as possible. Welcome to RI:SE, where the (albeit confusing) remarks of an anonymous dutiful continuity announcer (“A brand new way to wake with Channel 4″) catch the moment and the memory more than its chief presenter.

Indeed, as one of those necessarily chapter-opening occasions in TV history, the first few minutes of what needed to be a high profile and captivating invitation to stay tuned was a shock – not because of its immediacy or audacity, but thanks to its flippant, business-as-usual, aloof tone. Launches are supposed to be stunning over-the-top affairs, demanding to be watched. This lot didn’t give a damn. They were even talking amongst themselves when the cameras went live. A grey-haired figure was seen remonstrating in a suit. The floor manager – for it was he – then scurried out of sight, already fleeing the scene of the crime. It was telling that someone then deemed it vital to begin with a list of what RI:SE was not, rather than what it was. “There are no puppets, dancing girls or whooping crew members,” slurred Mark. Only then came the “RI:SE promise”, as (sounding like an insurance claims strapline) Mark declared: “We’ll give you all you need to know about everyone you care about in just 30 minutes.”

This would turn out to prove truer than feared. Towards the end of its maimed existence The Big Breakfast took to repeating and recycling features at a giddy and shameless rate. RI:SE, however, kicked off even more brazen, unfolding in 30-minute chunks virtually identical in content. It was down to the “team”, presumably, to provide variation. Initially at least it was possible to feel a bit of intrigue and bemusement at working out the weird mechanics of this new show, and more crucially who did what. Mark was flanked by three other people. First was Kirsty Gallacher, who fronted the sports news and arrived replete with a comedy ailment for Mark to take the piss out of (it even had a description – “nodules” – ripe for barrel-scraping smut. Mark did not disappoint.) Then there was Edith Bowman, who was in charge of film and music news. Completing the quartet, and instantly the most irritating of all, was Colin Murray, a supporting player with no obvious function other than being Mark’s stooge and to ask questions of the others that revealed his own insipid personal obsessions.

Alternately snuggled together on high chairs or behind a large desk, the four attempted to host each and every feature collectively, a strategy that boiled down to ceaseless chatting, gossiping and interrupting each other in as imprecise and drowsy a manner as possible, while ignoring the viewers completely. This summoned up all-too ghastly and prescient images of similar dire chatabouts Five’s Company and, worse, Granada Television’s truly awful Loose Women. In this instance, the struggle for a “casual” or laidback approach merely resulted in highhanded snootiness. In fact the presenters’ efforts to fulfil this ambitious brief made their conversations all the more mannered and exaggerated – “You’ve got a crumb on your face” marking a new low in presenter continuity. Throughout the entire show no attention or respect was paid to the viewers; the team were far too busy talking to each other, joylessly. No amount of theorising and explanation can overlook the fact that this kind of behaviour on television is and always will be simply downright rude.

Each of the team had also been assigned their own vibrating messenger to pick up e-mails sent directly from the viewers. This sounded quite appealing – as an opportunity for, just say, making a complaint – presuming you could be bothered to get out of bed or interrupt your breakfast, go and switch on your computer, dial-up, compose and type the e-mail, then wait for the thing to be read out. It somehow felt undignified expending so much energy on such a task.

Chris Rogers, however, had no e-mail address. He wasn’t allowed to sit or mingle with the famous four either, as if to emphasise his separate, and also by all accounts miniscule and unflattering role, of reading out a “six pack” of news every half hour. This was the powdery backbone of RI:SE: a two-minute dash through half a dozen top stories spliced with melodramatic sounds and images. News presentation that prioritises fast cutting and a breathless delivery can be entertaining and effective if confidently and amusingly executed (seeNewsround to MTV to Radio 1′s Newsbeat). That, sadly, was not the case here. Rogers seemed red-faced and ill at ease; his links back to the team clumsy and contrived. He needed to be more involved and made more welcome – on everyone’s part.

His role was further undermined by the presence of a “news ticker”. This distant cousin of the “infobar” of L!ve TV began as a distraction, then an irritation, and finally a real pain giving this reviewer a killing headache. Its gaudy yellow background didn’t help; plus it concentrated on “stories” that weren’t picked up on in the main news bulletin, and which consequently seemed to just call more awkward attention to themselves. Still, the team ignored it completely, like everything else.

With hard news relegated to the half hour, the bits in-between were where the real personality and purpose of RI:SE should have been defined and sustained. Instead, perhaps because the show really didn’t aspire to anything significant, nothing was resolved or exposed, won or lost. With compound irritation, items shuffled into line, passed into view, disappeared for a bit, then idled by once more, Mark and co fatuously greeting each as if an indefatigable ultra-wealthy dowager had just entered. The chief feature – stills of a new David Beckham photo shoot – enabled Mark to further carve out his macho niche and challenge the others to respond or “shut up – I’m talking”. He led the charge in bouncing himself and his colleagues into definable caricatures, while if there was ever supposed to be a parity between them all – or even the pretence of one – Mark’s despatching of Colin to go and make the coffee made clear what the power structure was here and how that was never ever going to change. If the man were obviously or naturally likable then this wouldn’t have mattered as much; conversely it seemed as if Mark was deliberately trying to contrive a personality, any personality, to raise him above the others and make sure he wouldn’t be the first against the wall when the relaunch comes.

And so the Beckham feature was flogged over and over again, and no matter how many times a camera jumps angles there’s only so long you can make the act of staring at a photo stuck on a piece of card different from riding on the roof of a plague-stricken train. “Do our work for us,” the team appeared to be urging as they plugged the e-mail addresses for the 10th time. “Lip Service”, an item that deciphered what celebrities whispered to each other at public events, was straight out of Steve Wright People Show/Last Chance Lottery wilderness territory, and while diverting the first time round was downright offensive the fourth. Those unused to Sky Sports’ technical presentation of sporting coverage, meanwhile, would have found the almost operatic promotion of the night’s big Premiership game totally at odds with Kirsty’s wish to “get rid of the cheese.” The lowest point of all however came going into the commercial breaks, when footage of traffic building up on the M27 was soundtracked by the new single from Eminem – “A combination never before seen,” and hopefully never again.

It seemed something of an oversight to not even have a big-name guest on the first morning; instead it was Dennis Leary, who Edith tried to interview (“Comedy legend – I don’t know about that.” “Well, that’s what it says in the script …”) while fidgeting. Dennis was served coffee and tersely complained several times of how there were, “People running around the set here” – a reminder of how such hyperactivity was supposed to now be a thing of the past on Channel 4 breakfast telly, never mind the nasty habit of shouting across the studio floor.

Mark’s stew of sophistry embraced slack-jawed gurning at the latest from the Middle East (“The main story you’re waking up to this morning” is how he continued to trail it, a sentence that makes no sense even written down), speaking with his mouth full, and musing on Kylie Minogue, who’s “worried about losing her voice – surely that doesn’t matter; if she loses her bottom then we’ve got a problem.” The only decent phrase to fall from his mouth was the welcome order: “Colin, can you please be quiet.” By the time the two hours were up, Colin’s role had been confirmed as utterly superfluous, his contributions instantly forgettable, his presence virtually untraceable. He had been set-up as the joker and the imp, only to go scurrying off to make refreshments. He couldn’t even feed gags to Mark properly. He will be the first to go.

It seemed Sebastian Scott couldn’t resist the opportunity of getting his new baby to take a few smug, lazy pot-shots at the opposition; and so RI:SE ended with clips from that morning’s editions of GMTV and BBC Breakfast, which were obviously only ever going to be the dullest, clumsiest, gaffe-prone bits they could find. The team bowed out telling us what they would be doing later on – self-obsessed and trifling to the end. There were no closing credits or title music; just complete silence, like they were already in mourning.

It’s vital to recall just how extremely bad The Big Breakfast had become on the point of its execution, and how it’s tempting to acknowledge that virtually any kind of replacement would have been some kind of improvement. But that replacement needed be something that instantly blew away all memory of its predecessor’s terrible death. RI:SE needed to sum up everything about Channel 4 in the 21st century, just as The Big Breakfast (at its inception) did about the end of the 20th. Off the evidence of its debut, though, it will only ever feature people of no substance saying nothing of consequence. That familiar, predictable news/weather/sports/ entertainment menu is still perfectly catered for on the BBC and GMTV. Even its grand antecedent, The Channel Four Daily, was more attractive, its novelty value hooking you day in day out. Maybe subsequent revamps will leaven the show with traces of distinction and worth; history suggests as much, though not without controversy and much contention over just exactly what the history of breakfast TV qualifies as “success” and “failure”. For the time being, RI:SE trades on the maxim “safety first” – truly the very worst aspiration for Channel 4 to peddle.


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