Friday, December 20, 2002 by

Generally in TV, if you’ve got a clunker of a show, the whole nation knows about it and are ready to mock accordingly. Even Fame Academy, while having seemingly everyone admitting by the final that it was their secret love, only managed figures for the final that equalled those of the much-mocked first series of Survivor. What chance RI:SE, a show which started and, brief doubling due to exclusive Big Brother coverage aside, remains at 200,000 viewers has of improving its image is negligible.

Three editors, five lost presenters and eight months ago, Ian Jones concluded of the first show that it “trades on the maxim ‘safety first’ – truly the very worst aspiration for Channel 4 to peddle.” Rather than as a damning review, you might be forgiven for thinking the producers had taken this as a maxim to guide the show by – bizarrely, and almost certainly uniquely, this was a last show of the year that felt like every other show, the only nods to the festive season being a joke shop singing moose on the still overlarge presenters’ desk and snow effects on the big screens. With the only other guest Grant Bovey, currently doing the rounds promoting this Christmas’ Celebrity Boxing, dispatched within the first half-hour, that left the big guests as being Girls Aloud and One True Voice, constantly talked up as the biggest musical conflict in years (“I think you’ll be able to taste the excitement … you can cut the tension with a knife in the studio”), when they’ve done at least two previous mutual joint interviews and the supposed acrimony amounted to artificial playground insults, and those probably suggested by their managers. If the presentation of the two bands as warring pop factions was one big exercise in irony, it was very subtly done in universally broad strokes. When one emailer asked if the boys would regret being put together by reality TV, one almost mumbled “no, because, y’know, Daniel’s a good songwriter”, as if surprised by a possibly critical question. Notably, while One True Voice were cut off by adverts, the girls were allowed to complete their song and a few minutes later disappear without prior warning on motorbikes to their undisclosed next port of call. It may look good in the Bizarre column, but to the viewer it smacks of record company-aided laziness. Just because you tell people something is exciting doesn’t necessarily mean it actually is, a seemingly clich├ęd observation that the show should have taken on board long before now.

So what of the presenters, the facet that has come in for the most criticism? When the show started, Henry Bonsu and Colin Murray were talked up as the news specialists – both are music radio DJs – while Edith Bowman and Liz Bonnin were the entertainment reporters. Bonsu disappeared a few weeks in and Murray left in October as the news mandate that suggested that, unlike its predecessor, a massive news story need not mean the show be postponed, evaporated. Durden-Smith maintains what Ian described as “deliberately trying to contrive a personality, any personality”, often pointlessly shouting and at one point sitting on the aforementioned moose in a vain and frankly David Brent-esque attempt to be “wacky”. Bowman and Bonnin, meanwhile, are cast as a Trinny and Susannah for Heat obsessives, delivering on-tap supposed sarcasm at the drop of a script. But isn’t this all a false economy? I’ve never seen Bonnin before she started on the show, but as far as I can tell neither Durden-Smith nor Bowman had adoped these personalities in their respective presenting styles before. It’s as if the production team had heard second-hand about the balance of power between presenters and regulars on the Big Breakfast and tried to recreate what they imagined it was like. But Bowman was wearing a hat, so she must be stylish and with the times.

Worse was to come. For a last show before Christmas, you expect all manner of bells and whistles, presenter surprises and montages of the year’s guests and highlights. What you don’t expect is, after two hours of unfestive ennui, a last link in which Edith and Liz tried to give thanks for celebrities who had sent them Christmas cards while One True Voice blew party horns and attempted to shout jokes about how they would be travelling to their remaining publicity duties and an unexplained dog set about the moose – that’s the Christmas effects budget gone, then – before a half drowned out Mark bade “a big thank-you to all our co-presenters and to the world in general” before playing out with the same film of celebrities (Sandy from Big Brother!) singing Shakin’ Stevens’ Merry Christmas Everyone that had been played an hour previously. And a happy christmas to you too, Princess Productions. The only semblance of an off-autocue surprise in the whole show was when one of Blue was shown on tape declaring he fancied Bonnin, which she pretended to be flustered by while Mark laddishly suggested “give him a ring, see what happens.”

The very least you expect of a show that has been universally panned in its opening weeks is some sort of noticeable improvement with metaphorical fireworks and, especially in the competitive breakfast market, something to hang the show’s hook on that is distinct and eye-catching enough to win over viewers. Yet eight months on, all that’s really changed on face value is the dropping of the news ticker some time in July. News and sport look more contractually obliged than ever, Chris Rogers and Kirsty Gallagher never gaining so much as a reference outside their specialist spheres for all their mugging to camera and the sport competition question being to name the player Sophie Anderton is currently dating, while the facile quarter-hour entertainment bulletins are built up like a major item. The rest boils down to the same promotional interviews as everyone else, right down to the lines of questioning, conducted by presenters seemingly keen not to project any of their own personalities beyond what was said in the production meeting. What’s the point, especially on the nominally get up and go Channel 4, of following everyone else’s example, and the lowest common denominator thereof to boot? The Big Breakfast may not on paper have been much more, but at its height, a time which should not be confused with its dying days, the array of experts and features was unmissable viewing. The concept of including “watercooler moments” may be the dread of the discerning viewer, but RI:SE would be advised to include some, otherwise it boils down to a completely forgettable set of features day after day.

RI:SE relocates in the New Year, losing Chris, Kirsty and Liz, not that they were given proper farewells during their last show, and moving to a purpose-built studio inside a shopping centre, a move which you suspect the production crew came up with as a homage to This Morning on Albert Dock or even GMTV‘s Get Up and Give campaign specials, but is actually reminiscent of the predecessor’s ill-fated relaunch with Sharron Davies and Rick Adams. The other sports anchor Helen Chamberlain, also a former Big Breakfast stand-in supposedly at Johnny Vaughan’s behest, has presented three shows during the last week and equipped herself relatively well, but it’s worth remembering that she was a launch presenter of Channel 5′s Live and Dangerous five and a half years ago and quit after six weeks because she was missing Soccer AM so much. Imagine what sport the tabloids would have if that were repeated. More than a change of personnel, however, RI:SE desperately needs a complete shift in direction, something unlikely to happen with a new editor coming in from a showbiz background that threatens to take the show even further down the faux-cynicism route. “Maybe subsequent revamps will leaven the show with traces of distinction and worth” Ian concluded back on 20 April – it’s looking increasingly unlikely.


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