Saturday, January 19, 2002 by

It’s always tough trying to follow popular presenters on a TV series, as the producers ofThis Morning would no doubt tell you. How many chancers filled the gap between Chris Evans and Johnny Vaughan on The Big Breakfast? Who now remembers Emma Ledden and Steve Wilson’s brief stint on Live & Kicking? Why did anyone think Chris Wenner would be an equally adept follow-up for John Noakes on Blue Peter? It’s even harder when the presenters have been associated with the programme from day one, and so when Ant and Dec left SM:TV Live last month, the producers had their work cut out trying to find a replacement.

However the programme had two factors which helped a lot. The first is, of course, Cat Deeley, who over the past three years has been equally adept at fronting the show and has provided just as many amusing moments. Cat staying on has at least meant that there’s enough professionalism to ease in the new presenter. The second factor is that the opposition is The Saturday Show on BBC1. Anyone who suggested that now Ant and Dec have gone, the BBC might be able to catch up, must clearly never have seen The Saturday Show. It’s simply not good enough – it’s not funny, and it isn’t particularly interesting – and now contains an outrageous four cartoons as well as LA7, first shown two years ago and already repeated umpteen times. And, despite the claims at the start of the series that it was going to contain “attitude” and be more stylish than Live & Kicking, the BBC have just announced that the only age group it’s made any headway into is that of 4-6 year-olds.

Really, SM:TV could have continued to beat The Saturday Show regardless of who replaced Ant and Dec. Thankfully, the new presenter is actually very good. James Redmond may have been seen as an unusual choice, as he’s been most famous for appearing in Hollyoaks and has little experience at presenting. But he’s thoroughly likeable, and has already proven to be an acceptable substitute. He’s clearly still nervous about being himself on camera, but it’s perhaps this nervousness that makes him so endearing to the audience. When he makes the odd mistake, we don’t mind, because he doesn’t come over as arrogant and false. He also sounds unlike most other presenters, having a strong (Bristol) accent which makes him feel much more real.

What’s also useful is that he’s not been placed in any situations where he has to replace Ant and Dec – there’s no Chums, no Wonkey Donkey, no Challenge James. Instead he appears in the hospital spoof Casually and the space opera SM:TV 2099, where his role as Commander Vegas is performed so well, and he’s clearly having so much fun doing it, that he can turn even the weakest line into comedic gold. It’s not worth comparing him to Ant and Dec, James is a likeable and proficient presenter in his own right, and has done enough in his first three weeks to cast off the shadow of his predecessors.

Unfortunately, James is unable to shine to his full potential as the programme’s also decided to supplement the core Cat and James duo with two other “star presenters”. Big Brother’s Brian Dowling and the unexceptional Tess Daly appear on the sofa with the two each week and join in with the regular features. This doesn’t seem to work so well – it’s fair enough having them helping out in the sketches and hanging around in the studio, but by having them co-present the programme, they sort of get in the way. Four presenters are too many, Live & Kickingproved that last year, and really James should appear more to get us used to him. It also doesn’t help that many of the links are quite short, so with four people having to get lines, it just seems crowded.

Tess isn’t much cop either, although Brian seems to be have been quite useful in interviews as he’s able to get a lot more out of the guests. Both Britney Spears this week and Tracy Shaw last week seemed to open up a lot more to Brian than they otherwise would – Shaw even chatting about her much-publicised aeroplane incident. Brian is a witty and likeable person, but it’s still far better to have two presenters and James would get my vote every time. Another problem with the series at present is the inclusion of the imported series Becoming, which consists of whiny-voiced American teenagers getting the chance to be made up as their idols. Being chopped up into three parts on SM:TV, though, it seems to be on for hours, as opposed to just one missable chunk.

Still, these problems are ironed out when CD:UK arrives at 11.30am. Cat and James front this show alone, and work well as a team. CD:UK is the best music show on television – while Top of the Pops continually attempts to convince the audience that it’s credible and exciting,CD:UK just gets on with it. The audience is genuinely excited, the presenters pitch it just right, and it tells you all you need to know about the music world. No genre seems to be promoted over another, no band seems out of place, and unlike Top of the Pops, it realises that the audience wants to hear the records, not pointless remixes or acoustic versions. It’s mainstream, professional entertainment.

So, if Brian and Tess’ roles are scaled down – and indeed Tess seemed to appear much less on this week’s programme than previous editions – and the scheduling gets slightly better, it’s not hard to see SM:TV lasting for at least another three years. And with the Beeb still in disarray, it’s hard to see anything beating this on a Saturday morning for some time yet.


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