Arts: Am I the only viewer who is desperate for new faces?

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The Independent Culture
THERE IS a certain irony to the fact that Vanessa Feltz is fronting a BBC programme called Value for Money. VFM was not what Anglia Television decided her pounds 2.75m fee demand was last week, but the Beeb has stepped in with an offer that nearly matches. We will be bombarded by that fulsome bullying 500 times in the next two years, and that's just the morning confessional slot - there's all the evening stuff as well.

Five hundred? Many people don't get to see their wives that often. But Vanessa, though her jackpot pay-out sets yet another precedent for the UK TV industry, is hardly unusual in her swamping presence on our screens. Every time you turn on the telly, there's Smillie, Tarrant, Clarkson, Theakston, Jonsson, Reeves, Mortimer, Deayton, Anderson, Wogan, Ball... And if they're not grinning and giggling at a studio audience, then they're pestering us to buy something. Can you name more than half-a-dozen other presenters working at the moment? Thought not: they've got the market sewn up.

In the words of another celebrity fond of his advertising fees, NO! Commissioning Editor! NO! Are there really only a dozen people in the country who can stand in front of a camera? Are you really so busy that you can't hold auditions? Is Lamarr the only charmless oaf around? Are there no Cambridge science graduates other than Vorderman? Is being nice really only something that can be done by Roslin? Is total vacancy a talent only Turner possesses? Patronising aggression the sole province of Robinson?

The domination of presentation on TV by a handful of individuals is bad for all of us. My contacts in youth research tell me that one topic comes up repeatedly in media groups: how much the young are turned off by what they regard as laziness on the part of commissioning editors, ringing for Deayton and sending out for sushi. Style leader and early-adopter youth, it seems, are turning off their tellies, and what the early-adopters are doing, late adopters are going to catch on to sooner or later. Good news for bars and publishers, bad news for telly, even if they will have brought it on themselves.

There's a lot of guff talked about professionalism in the business, but the ease with which the average member of the public seems to approach TV cameras these days suggests that there's a huge pool of potential professionals out there. Celebrity fees, mostly for the dumbest end of the market - game shows, chat shows, talent shows, the lottery, Acacia Avenue travel slots - eat our licence fees. That pounds 2.5m Vanessa's getting is your pounds 2.5m, remember. 25 people could cover an awful lot more air time at pounds 100,000, or 50 at pounds 50,000, and the price of mansions in Hampstead wouldn't be so grossly inflated. A presenter, after all, merely introduces or brings something or someone before the public. Or, to put it another way, all a presenter has to do is be present.

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