TELEVISION / Same old stories

AS THE debates about the BBC's future rumble on, the Corporation's bright and shiny autumn schedules concealed an unconscionable number of retreads behind the New] stickers in the Radio Times. Hyacinth Bucket, the product of some nightmare mating between a foghorn and a bulldozer, was back Keeping Up Appearances (Sun, BBC1) as were Birds of a Feather (Sun, BBC1), flapping along lamely in the wake of the programme's Friday night repeats. Barry Norman was trailing a new series of his cinema magazine as Film '92: Part II (tonight, BBC1), as if we weren't already well fed up with big-screen sequels. And Bruce Forsyth invited us to relive a hilarious highlight from last season's Generation Game (Sat, BBC1) in which a doorknob lodged in his hand.

The programme itself, of course, fetes the bodged-up job, as contestants attempt to perform tasks that require expert training. But this carefully structured tomfoolery is not enough, it seems: Forsyth's reprise included a brisk retrospective of moments when even the planned mistakes went wrong. Perhaps our programmes have become too varnished and professional: the proliferation of these shows - the weekend also featured Ten Years of Alright on the Night (Sat, ITV) and You've Been Framed] (Sun, ITV) - suggests that audiences yearn for the spontaneous cock-ups of live TV.

Bobby Davro - Public Enemy Number 1 (Sat, BBC1), another programme devoted to the sticky moment, was conceived as softcore Beadle, but was much too benign: it lacked the crucial embarrassment factor of tabloid telly. The first prank - people answering a ringing payphone were told to give it a good clean - fell flat because it was obvious that no one was taken in. The cringe quotient only came into play for the celebrities in the studio, who got to contemplate delicate episodes from their past. Linda Lusardi blushed her way through a truly awful audition tape while Keith Chegwin watched himself dance nude except for two (translucent) balloons. 'Now we know that Maggie Philbin married you for your money,' quipped Davro - a joke that, in the light of the couple's announced separation last week, finally gave the programme the savage edge it needed.

Up on the cultural high ground, the last of the current Video Diaries (Sat, BBC2) caused a strongly ambivalent response. It was impossible not to ache for the woman and her sisters confronting memories of horrible child abuse at the hands of their stepmother. On the other hand, the diary somehow smacked of Henry Jaglom's narcissistic exercises in introspection, and was just a bit too polished (even amateur television seems too slick these days), with the director zooming in on her sister's tears like the most hardened documentary film- maker. The series is meant to present some kind of naked emotional verity, but you're constantly reminded that the juiciest, truest diaries are those not meant for publication.

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