Here they come, walking down the beach

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The Independent Culture
NEVER MIND leaves turning yellow, the wind switching north-easterly and the morning traffic snarling with badly navigated Volvos crammed full of schoolchildren, it is the Saturday evening ratings war that truly signals the end of summer. Autumn is definitively here now that Baywatch, Gladiators, The Generation Game, Challenge Anneka and lots of movies with the suffix 2 are back in full employ.

As the bizarre parade of the human physique that these programmes present unfolded on Saturday (Brucie's chin, Anneka's bottom, Arnie's shoulders, Bruce Willis's stubble), I couldn't help wondering whether the programme controllers would have anything left in their locker if the stars of an autumnal Saturday night were confronted with the same testing technique which was the undoing of Diane Modahl.

Were the stars of Baywatch (ITV), for instance, obliged to fill a phial or two after shooting, their samples would make eye-opening chemical reading. We could discover what substance, entirely absent naturally from the female anatomy, it is that enables those gargantuan breasts of the Baywatch babes to remain static as their owners run, in rock-scored slo-mo, down the sand. We might find out what David Hasselhof uses to overcome the exhaustion inherent in holding in the stomach for such sustained periods. And, equally importantly, learn if it is commercially available in this country.

But the most combustible of the Baywatch urine samples would surely belong to the scriptwriters. What hallucinogen can produce a vision of a public service like the one they have dreamt up of the Los Angeles life-guards?

Halfway through Saturday's opening episode, Hasselhof scrambled his team for an emergency. From nowhere, scores of pneumatics with acid-coloured swimming costumes cut so far up the thigh they ventilated the armpits (and that was just the men), bundled into the sea; half a dozen spanking new four-wheel-drive vehicles scudded to a halt on the sand, disgorging yet more of central casting's most beautiful; out in the bay a speedboat the size of a cross-Channel ferry hove into view to help with the procedure. All this because Hasselhof spotted a child's surfboard in the foam. What efforts, you wondered, would this mob go to if news came through that their supplier's boat had gone down on its way in from Bolivia?

Later on, in Gladiators (ITV), we were confronted with a more plausible vision of the emergency services. It was originally intended to devote most of this scene-building prelude to the real thing, which begins next week, to a report of the international Gladiators event held over the summer in the United States. This was the contest in which the two winners of the last series here in the UK pitched their pecs against the best in the world - well, against the Americans, the Finns and a geezer from Japan.

Since our brave pair were knocked out in the first round of a competition eventually won by the Finns, most of the show was devoted to demonstrating how tough Gladiators really is. Which meant endless shots of collisions in which competitors were hurt.

One woman, after clashing heads with a Gladiator called Anabolic or Testosterone or something, lay spark out on the studio floor for what seemed like minutes. 'This looks serious,' spewed the commentator, John Sachs. And eventually a St John's Ambulance person (with, the waistline would suggest, unnaturally high traces of hot dog still in the system) appeared on the scene. 'Are you all right?' he asked. You could make an autumnal Saturday evening series out of emergency response like that.