TELEVISION

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The Independent Culture
"The noise level is similar to heavy road traffic" explained a nurse in Intensive Care, yet another bloody documentary series about emergency hospital treatment. "That's why some of the patients suffer from ITU psychosis," she continued. "Some of them even end up having nightmares." The condition is brought on, it seems, by flashing lights, background bleeping and the unceasing solicitous harassment of the staff. It can't be long, then, before the first case of LTV psychosis presents itself, a derangement induced by watching too much l!ve tv, Britain's newest cable channel. A diet of junk food has already made its appearances in the courts as a mitigating circumstance so an enterprising defence lawyer should be able to do something very creative with junk television: "My client, milud, had been watching l!ve tv for seven hours and mistook his unfortunate victim for a Kodiak bear in day-glo pyjamas."

The adverts screened on the first day give a strong hint as to how the channel sees itself - mostly commercials for confectionery, snacks and soft drinks. The latter, in particular, provides the best analogy - tuppence worth of highly-coloured ingredients, lots of artificial effervescence and a gaudy can. And like many soft drinks, l!ve tv repeats on you for the rest of the day. You may not think that a Joan Collins book-signing is worth seeing once - the channel will offer it to you again and again, each time with the same breathless excitement. They can't do much else, to be fair. The budget for l!ve tv is some pounds 2,000 per hour, so we're not talking telephone numbers - in fact they only just make it to an extension (Radio 1FM, for example, spends roughly twice that per hour). As a result there is something of a premium on assertive exclamations. The bottom of the screen cheerleads for what is unravelling above - "life is fun with l!ve tv!", "get a life... get l!ve tv" - while the presenters yip and chortle with desperate exuberance. Most tragic was the unfortunate young woman who had the task of persuading us that Disneyland Paris on a damp Monday was an epicentre of revel: "They're all having such a laugh! They're having such fun! I wish you could see the children's faces, they're just full of wonderment!" She forgot that wishes come true in Disneyland - the camera panned down to two glum enfants surveying a stretch of empty tarmac.

The determined glee seems to me to be a mistake, both locally and in the longer term. Janet Street-Porter has said that the channel is intended to be "friendly, yeah. Not sneery". But sneering isn't the only way in which intelligent life can manifest itself and besides, what would you make of a friend so vacuously upbeat, so hysterically undiscriminating? On the evidence of a Tuesday morning phone-in, the current audience consists of extremely dimwitted truants but I doubt if even they will be fooled for long by the Hello! magazine jollity. In any case the channel's determined enthusiasm, its oddly dated adulation of PR clients cramps the style of presenters who might otherwise make something of the ragged edges - "Ultimate Kaos. In! The! House!" shouted Bhavesh of Buzzin' on the first day, and you couldn't be quite sure whether he was introducing a band or screaming for help. He may simply have been celebrating the fact that his microphone was turned on (a luxury on the first day). Both Simon London and Imogen Edwards-Jones gave indications that they are capable of something less bland, a bit of winning mischief to salt the porridge (London actually used the word "cerebral" at one point, which probably caused heart attacks in the gallery). But if they're not allowed to have real fun, then you can be pretty sure that no one else will.

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