TELEVISION / False start

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The Independent Culture
THEY stole in under cover of the night. Carlton supplanted Thames at midnight on New Year's Eve. GMTV, ITV's new breakfast-server, opened six hours later. Hard to know what this says about confidence levels at these new franchises, but they chose to launch while the nation was first drunk and then asleep.

The initial GMTV was actually little more than a dress rehearsal, the chance to check plugs and tweak satellite links. But Eamonn Holmes and Anne Davis bluffed it, sharing a desk in front of a large, real-effect gas fire. 'A new day,' said Eamonn, 'a new year, a new television station.'

Same old news priorities, though. The programme began with film of Princess Diana on holiday. This wasn't a story, it was a set of pictures: real-effect news. Anne kept the gas going by cutting to Joanna Sheldon, the station's royalty botherer, live from the Caribbean. 'Is the Princess managing to keep a low profile?' asked Anne with no apparent irony. Where Jo was, it was 1.15am and everyone was engaged in the low-profile activity known as 'sleeping'. Desperate, she quoted the usual 'sources close to the Princess' but also, in what may well be a royal-reporting first, sources close to the Princess's holiday destination. 'Those who really know the Caribbean say Nevis is as exclusive as they come.'

Looking for news, we rushed pointlessly between foreign correspondents in Washington, Moscow and Brussels, all of which were closed. At least the weather woman was open for business. In the tradition of cartography established by regional weather programmes, Emma Jesson was standing by a patch of illegible, computer-generated psychedelia. It seemed to be forecasting a Jimi Hendrix revival in the north and a shower of cufflinks over Wales.

With greater clarity, 'Meet the Gang' introduced us quickly to the GMTV team. Michael Hastings on politics, Linda Lusardi on keep-fit. How much more daring were it the other way around. And then, at 7.15, we went back live to the Caribbean where, incredibly, that royal story had not advanced. 'Is she keeping a low profile?' Anne re-asked. No lower than GMTV, which packed up at 7.30, while a nation slept on.