And the abominations are...
No music, no controversy, no comedy; Nicholas Barber says the National Television Awards don't deserve the air time
Sunday 01 November 1998
The event took place at the Albert Hall last Tuesday and was broadcast on ITV the next night. The Booker Prize-giving was also on Tuesday, but it went out live - and Channel 4 still managed to pep up proceedings by interviewing guests, dramatising extracts from the contending novels, and perching Will Self on Melvyn Bragg's wrist, then taking off his cowl and sending him swooping after literary mice. The NTA... well, I don't want to upset the organisers, but if I say that their efforts didn't match up, I don't suppose that's anything they don't already know. This was "Television's Big Night of the Year", a two-hour prime-time celebration of the medium. And what did they come up with? This: The host introduces a guest presenter. The guest presenter reads out the nominations, then announces the winner(s). The winner(s) pick up their trophy, then return to their seat(s). Multiply by 15. At the evening's close, the producer must have slapped his assistant on the back and said, "We've done it again, by God! We've put on a basic, broadly competent award ceremony!"
There was no controversy, no music and no comedy (an Alan Davies penis joke didn't make it to our screens). All the NTA offered the viewer was the chance to see some celebs in evening dress. And sometimes, this is enough. If you're watching the Oscars or the Brits, it can pique the interest to glimpse your favourite musician or movie star in a tuxedo and a pseudo- social context. You don't see them on TV every day of the week, after all. By definition, we do see the NTA's stars on TV every day of the week, so we deserved some other reason to watch.
The NTA's concession to entertainment was to run clips of the programmes which were nominated themselves or which featured a nominated personality. (A foreign visitor would have assumed that 50 per cent of terrestrial output was required, by law, to star Caroline Quentin.) Why wasn't there anything else? They could have paid for a considerable amount of glitz just by taxing the use of the phrase "it really is a team effort" in acceptance speeches.
What's infuriating is that the ceremony could so easily be improved. I can think of two easily fixable flaws off the top of my head. 1) Trevor McDonald and 2) Caprice. McDonald has yet to grasp that hosting an award ceremony is not the same as reading the news, and his script-writer has yet to grasp that McDonald isn't Stephen Fry, and so shouldn't really be called upon to recite the words "the very fragrant Mr Brian Conley". As for Caprice, the token bit of skirt, she is a bony Barbie Doll, elevated by the tabloids to "supermodel" status solely because she turned up to the event two years ago in a Wonderbra and not much else. This year, she turned up in a Union Jack dress, a mere 20 months after Geri from the Spice Girls had the idea.
Having attended the event, I was hoping to write about how the theatrical experience compared with the televisual, but being at the Albert Hall had nothing to recommend it apart from the slight fun of spying on famous people doing slightly funny things: Stephen Tompkinson absent-mindedly applauding his own nomination for Most Popular Actor, for instance. The most inexplicable behaviour was that of Richard "And Judy" Madeley. He must have expected This Morning to lose the Daytime Programme prize because he bet two colleagues ten pounds each on it. So why, as the nominations were being read out, was he already holding the two tenners, ready to hand them over?
Apart from these minor intrigues, what was seen by the people in the boxes was just what was seen on the box, and at home you got to eat a curry at the same time. I've been to several televised award ceremonies (not, needless to say, to pick up awards) and they usually last twice as long as the broadcast version, what with all the retakes and prop-shifting. Tuesday's event was all over in two hours - just as it was on TV the next night. So why wasn't it shown live, when at least the viewers wouldn't already know the results?
Maybe someone decided it wasn't worth it, because the Awards wouldn't be very surprising, anyway. They are doled out not to the "best" people and programmes, but to the "most popular"; that is, the winners are those with most votes from the viewers, "the people who really matter" (copyright: anyone who won a prize). Actually, viewers in this context means half a million people who filled in forms in the TV Times and the Daily Mail and responded to a phone poll on GMTV. (It was doubly to GMTV's shame that they couldn't win the Daytime category even with this unfair advantage.) But the point stands that we knew which programmes were most popular in advance because the ratings figures told us. There was no need for an award ceremony. Especially an award ceremony like this one.
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