Loose at 5.30!

Monday, May 29, 2006 by

If anything should serve as a warning not to tune in to a programme, it is the sight of an exclamation mark adorning a timecheck.

While there is a case to be made for such a grammatical appendage tailgating, say, a wacky catchphrase (Hi-De-Hi!), nostalgic saying (Get Some In!) or stoical shrug of the shoulders (That’s Life!), there’s really no earthly reason why a particular time of the day can ever in any way be elevated to the status of meriting an exclamation mark. What, for example, is particularly zany, offbeat or fanciful about 5.30? What startling and sudden craziness lies at such an otherwise underwhelming, unassuming hour? What, for that matter, can be considered in any way, gulp, “loose” about such an appointment to view?

No, there is nothing remotely justified in slapping such pithy punctuation on the end of a programme title which itself is merely a statement of fact – albeit a pretty unappealing one at that. Hence the alarm bells, and hence the suffocatingly damp hand of horror which fell upon the shoulder of at least one viewer, as they made themselves tune in to yet another attempt by ITV1 to plug the teatime leak in its eternally cursed weekday schedule.

On any other occasion the launch of this show might not have carried about its person such an addled air of desperation. But following on from the most ignominious procession of flops, failures and faffing about ever seen on daytime TV in this country, the advent of Loose at 5.30! (see, it even looks rotten written down) could only smack of the worst kind of desperation: that not borne out of fury, or exertion, or even fevered imagination, but rank laziness.

For after all, what did this really amount to other than a half-arsed shuffling of ITV1′s already distinctly well-worn daytime pack? Look closer, however, for the network couldn’t even get this right.

Shunting a lunchtime show to teatime, lopping half an hour off its running time in the process, is one thing. You might say it’s a particularly demented thing, akin to assuming Pebble Mill at One will work perfectly well as Pebble Mill at Five just because somebody says it will, regardless of the particular mix of features, audience and tone which suit the middle of the working day as opposed to its end. Yet you could also say there’s an argument for seeing whether a particular formula, albeit one that ITV1 flogged to death for the last six years, can take care of a scheduling problem in the short term and trade off the familiarity of its brand name. Perhaps.

Or not. Because Loose at 5.30! is not the same formula. What made Loose Women distinctive, for good or ill, was the fact it was just, in essence, a bunch of women sitting and bitching about everyone in the newspapers that they didn’t like. In this instance, as the title implies, this sole gimmick has gone the same way as the 60 minute running time, thanks to the addition of men to the gantry of gossipers.

So now not only have you not got the same format, you’ve not got the same faces either. Top it all off with the fact the show’s ingrained carping and badmouthing is occupying a slot normally beholden only to good-natured chat (Richard and Judy), easy escapism (Neighbours) or harmless pantomime (The Weakest Link), then ITV1 really couldn’t have got it more wrong.

It’s worth noting how we got here. Having carelessly let Paul O’Grady defect to Channel 4 after spending too long tinkering with his new contract, ITV first decided to try and spoil his new show by running old episodes of his last series at the same time. Naturally it was a flop and The Old Paul O’Grady Show was dropped after three days.

Then it was decided to end Children’s ITV at 4.30pm and turn the ensuring 90 minutes into an all-ages free-for-all. This, however, merely compounded the problem by opening up another flank from which the other channels could attack. Sure enough ITV’s first effort, The Coronation Street Family Album, flopped, and was replaced a week later by repeats of, unbelievably, Rising Damp. This was supposed to last just two weeks before kids programmes moved back to running through to 5pm.

Inevitably enough this didn’t happen, and Rising Damp limped on for five weeks until it was deemed enough of a flop to be pulled – perversely just six episodes before the entire series would have ended anyway – and replaced by repeats of Airline. Meanwhile a revived The Price is Right with Joe Pasquale (a petrifying proposition in itself) had been launched to run at 5pm for supposedly hundreds of episodes, initially teamed with repeats of You’ve Been Framed. When this – yes – flopped, dual helpings of Pasquale were served right up to 6pm. This double whammy lasted all of one week before the arrival of Loose At 5.30!

As Inspector Morse used to say, what an inheritance. And what an opening night. “Girls, the boys are in town,” growled Ted Robbins. “Brace yourselves to hear how it really is.” A brief discussion about the size of Ted’s arse followed, co-presenter Kaye Adams shouting “get a handful of that one!” A photo of Ted naked and holding a rugby ball appeared on screen. Ted made the only decent joke of the day: “A lot of people mistake me for Brad Pitt. Well, I’m his brother, Cess.” Far too long had gone by without some bitching about someone in the papers they didn’t like, so a photo of John Prescott appeared.

The other presenters, Jason Gardiner and Denise Welch, then walked on. A conversation about tanning ended with the photo of Ted naked and holding a rugby ball appearing on screen again. “That’s a funny shaped ball you’ve got there,” wondered Kaye, “are they both like that?” Denise started a conversation about “snogging – I’d be far more upset with my man snogging someone else that doing the jig-jigging.”

At 5.45pm Kaye announced it was “25 to six”. The most convoluted competition question imaginable asked viewers to text in “their unique lowest bid” for a widescreen TV. Special guests were promised – “Michelle Collins!” – but for some reason not for today. After all, what place special guests when there was that photo of Ted naked and holding a rugby ball to show again? Proceedings promptly ended with as little consequence and as much bombast as they had begun. Michelle Collins would be on, but “in the week”. Sometime or other.

A noisy and disagreeable offspring of Five’s Company would be alarming at any time, but is quite possibly the worst thing you’d want to come home to at the end of the day. Sure, it nudges ITV onwards from 5.30 to 6pm, but leaves the network in a far less credible state than ever. Which, given Joe Pasquale was on before, is nothing to shout about either.

Heaven knows why ITV doesn’t just lay down its arms and screen family-orientated films between 4.30 and 6pm every weekday. It might not be original, but at least it’d smack of a bit of dignity. Help! would be a good one to start with. And not just because of the right kind of exclamation mark.


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