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If the weekend starts here, then I do like Mondays

ITV's replacement for `The Chart Show' is even worse than expected. It seems music fans of all ages are being short-changed.
MOST SELF-RESPECTING pop fans were dreading it, but it's proved worse than expected. CD:UK, ITV's Saturday morning replacement for The Chart Show, has so far, in the pithy words of Jeremy Paxman on a recent edition of University Challenge, "trawled new shallows".

Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, the young men formerly known as Ant and Dec, and Byker Grove's PJ & Duncan, gave the game away when they admitted in interviews that the original proposal they took to ITV was for a one- hour show aimed at kids. Extending SMTV://Live to two hours of cartoons, mayhem and sketches was already stretching it, and tacking on a further 60 minutes of supposedly live music proved too much.

The pop show, which can't quite decide whether it's called CD:UK or Countdown UK (the shrill submarine diving in an emergency panic-stations jingle shrieks the latter), had the feeling of a proposal written on a paper napkin.

You could all but see producer Ric Blaxill (a Top Of The Tops veteran who should know better), conjuring up a magic formula out of thin air: "I've got it: we'll go live to a record shop and ask the record-buying public about their likes and dislikes. We'll have Dr Pop spouting inane trivia and make fun of him, we'll give Ant and Dec a female sidekick, and Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett will draw a few murals to decorate Studio 2 at the London Television Centre."

Cue a series of vox pops, fronted by two local DJs not even aware they're on live, reprising Mark "Lard" Riley and Mark Radcliffe's Radio One Mancunian double act. All-season Maxwell asking Laura from Cumbernauld what she bought twice in the same day. Cue, as Dr Pop, Phil Swern - a Radio One producer who comes across like the bastard offspring of Fantasy Football League's Stato and Capital Radio's Dr Fox. Cue a strobe effect, so fiercely blinding throughout Faithless' rendition of God Is A DJ, it could have triggered epilepsy in half the nation. Cue moonlighting MTV presenter Cat Deeley claiming Gothenburg is in Germany.

Whichever way you look at it, CD:UK couldn't conceivably be described as "cutting out all the boring bits" and "a very serious and committed move by ITV to brand the network as a home for music", as trumpeted in the press release. It's an "unprecedented commission of 52 weeks", which gives an indication of the business acumen on both sides.

Or maybe not. The cosy relationship between Ant and Dec's production company and some of the acts playlisted on CD:UK leaves a lot to be desired; American teen sensation Jennifer Paige, whose Crush video has been featured two weeks running, is promoted by the PR company handling the SMTV:// Live and CD:UK account.

Mind you, she inadvertently provided the show with its only memorable moment so far when Dec quipped "we've got a female lady" as he introduced her. While not quite in the league of seminal music TV moments like Mick Fleetwood and Sam Fox fronting The Brit Awards, the "female lady" slip- up is fast becoming a catchphrase around the office.

Maybe I'm being too hard on this shopping-mall pop show designed for teenagers but Another Level's luscious Freak Me is my favourite British Number One this year.

The O Zone and Fully Booked are watched by students and adults as well as children. Given its basic approach - stack the videos and play them - The Chart Show bridged the generation and genre gaps and gave anyone with a passing interest in music a pop brief for the week.

Over-reliant on teenybop and dance acts miming or at best giving live vocal performances on top of a DAT tape (with a token full-on live band thrown in once in a while), The Pepsi Chart, CD:UK, Top Of The Pops (though greatly improved under the guidance of director-producer Chris Cowey) are short-changing music fans of all ages. Bring back the Chart Show. Now.