Television Review

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IT WAS fitting that a contributor to Masters of the Universe (C4 Sun) should define the service provided by management consultants as "managerial Prozac". Once a small band of men employed to improve productivity and efficiency within the workforce, they have, in the last decade, evolved into a new professional class worth more than $40 billion worldwide. If management consultancy is a drug, big business is hooked.

The series opened with the secret history of a profession that has a backstage pass to media and government. Charles E Bedaux, the man who, in the Thirties, pioneered this pastime as a trade, became notable for introducing Edward and Wallis to Adolf, and committing suicide before being tried for treason.

The current star is Michael Hammer, who, into a profession that has claimed downsizing and rightsizing for its own, introduced the concept of "re- engineering". He believes this to be the most important economic idea since Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, and has a catchy summary of the theory: "Radical recovery of the business process for dramatic improvement".

Narrator Ray Snoddy provided an insightful account into a breed of people who have succeeded in being both ubiquitous and secretive. The criteria for becoming a management consultant is nebulous, at best. It requires no specific experience, qualifications, or rules of entry. And consultants are never penalised for their failures. Yet the decisions they make ultimately affect the working lives of those with far greater skills. "They are opportunists who have found a niche in the market," opined Alan Sugar, the man behind Amstrad. "They are basically glorified salesmen."

The time-and-motion men in factories in the Thirties were cited as the nascent consultants of today. But British industry's courtship with the Nineties model has its origins in the Sixties, when American consultants were taken on by the Bank of England and the BBC.

Last night, it was a former director of BBC Radio, Liz Forgan, who offered the best advice on consultants in broadcasting: "Kick them out after three months. Do not inhale. Above all, do not wrap them around you like a security blanket." The corporation has never heeded such advice, though, all but handing over its offices to firms of management consultancies at a reputed cost of pounds 20 million each year, around 200,000 licence fees.

In the last episode of The Larry Sanders Show (BBC2 Sun), the producer decided to bow out of TV. He was sick of kowtowing to executives who think "creativity is an accounting problem". Despite the criticisms constantly levelled at US TV, it always does a better job than we do when putting the medium under the spotlight in the name of comedy or satire. Garry Shandling's parodic talk-show host worked because the subtlety made it plausible. British comedians casting themselves in this role are merely a gag in a wig, with scripts seldom a pertinent comment on the industry itself. "I thought you'd taken the job on Roseanne," Sanders said, when the producer announced his retirement from TV. "Oh, that's a consulting gig," came the reply. "That doesn't count."

Robert Hanks is away