TELEVISION Takeover TV (C4) Public access broadcasting?

Channel 4's new strand comes over more like a showcase for would- be professionals than a chance to let the amateurs loose.
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The Independent Culture
In the United States, the point of a public access television is its sheer, unadulterated democracy. A channel solely dedicated to giving the viewer a voice is an ocean of talentlessness and tedium. The only way to consume it is in bite-size pieces, pre-carved and plattered by someone with the requisite editorial nous. This is what Channel 4, serving a minority audience much travelled down the highways and byways of irony, did a few years ago with Made in the USA. And mildly amusing it was too to be able to snigger at American betises from a safely knowing distance.

Takeover TV is cosmetically the same venture, but tapping into the talents of domestic camcorder-owners. And there we have our first discrepancy. Because British viewers are more or less brought up on quality, it's much more difficult for them to make uncomplicatedly bad television. Good television is in our genes. In the contribution from the naked man who tries to fix an x-ray lens to his camera, of course, the entire entertainment is appalling, amateurish, shoddy. But it's meant to be. The display of inability is an effect.

The other problem with Takeover TV is that it's a programme, not a channel, and only half an hour long: clearly a selection procedure, some form of quality control, is required to isolate the broadcastable material. In real public access television, the notion of weeding out the incompetent, the marginal and the impossibly eccentric is anathema. So what we have instead is You've Been Framed, the only difference being that the entertainment is caught on film deliberately rather than by chance: I've Framed Myself. Which is a good working definition of a sketch. So Takeover TV is, to all intents and purposes, a sketch show pooling the work of talented unrecognised comedians.

Not that they're all that talented. Otherwise, they'd presumably be working in television already. They know the form: the idiom of public access is cheap'n'cheerfulness. Hence the "Doctor on the Run" sketch, in which a Dalek giving chase gets stuck at the bottom of the stairs and says "Oh, bollocks", is self-consciously in black-and-white. Ditto the mock ad for Dinatone, the prototype video game.

The general impulse is to make fun of kitsch: the girl on her bike out in the countryside, lip-synching a song called "Bicycle Adventure"; the man extolling the virtues of cat food. Treading that fine line between laughing at bad TV and simply becoming bad TV, some fall right off the edge. The singing Polish plum delivered 60 seconds of television the nation could happily have forgone.

The better stuff is all the product of genuine video artistry - the skinhead with shaver who lops eyes, nose and mouth into the sink, or the wonderful animation starring a potato who drives his car at hectic speed. Give these film-makers a budget and they could easily go through the more formal channels to get their work on the box. Which is missing the point of public access television entirely.

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