Start the lift, I want to get out

"It was kind of like free-fall television," said Jools Holland, recalling the glory days of The Tube (in The Legend of the Tube, Channel 4). "It wasn't contrived, was it," he added, turning to Paula Yates for confirmation. "It was genuinely shodd y." It was too, but memory is forgiving and The Tube now stands as one of television's Dunkirks, a disaster proudly remembered because of its evidence of pluck in the face of adversity. They filmed some fine bands too, which is important now that televis ion networks are beginning to exploit the value of their backlists.

No such redemption for Out of Order (C4), though there were several moments when I wished it would turn into free-fall television as well. The programme's conceit (and never has the word been more appropriate) is that two guests have been trapped in a malfunctioning studio lift and are thus able to engage in an unmediated argument about some controversial subject. Presumably the virtues of the thing, and I'm really grasping at straws here, have something to do with compression and the absence of any outside intervention. Unfortunately the producers can't even keep faith with the minimal purity of their idea. The cameras keep popping out for a breath of fresh air, staring at the creaking cables. This tantalising image at least offers some relief from the bickering inside, if only by allowing you to fantasise about bolt-cutters.

The vacuous "freshness" of the idea, its gimmicky attempt to inject some adrenalin into an otherwise utterly routine piece of talk television, is a good example of the medium's current addiction to "innovative formats" ("Innovative" is the blurb-writer'sfavourite adjective). Like Panorama's shoddy courtroom drama on Monday, in which the case of Private Lee Clegg was reduced to sixth-form balloon debate, nobody seems to care very much whether the innovation is actually useful or not. In the case of Panorama (BBC 1) with its meaningless studio vote and abbreviated cross-examinations, only one thing was demonstrated with any clarity - that trials are better conducted in courtrooms, where they can generally proceed without the judge saying, "That's it, time's up" every five minutes.

In Out of Order you learn even less. The notional freedom of the arrangements is illusory - most participants will be familiar with the appetites of television producers and will know how to conduct themselves in a television studio, even if it's pretending to be a lift. Besides, it's hard to see that any genuine departure from the etiquette of the standard studio discussion would be very instructive anyway. It might be mildly interesting to see Norman Tebbit, say, losing his temper and punching out Lord Howe, but it wouldn't exactly throw new light on a complex issues.

The participants last night were Matthew Parris and Peter Tatchell and the notional subject was the decent conduct of gay men - should they out bishops and get rugby tackled by policeman or should they wear tweed jackets and write columns for The Times. "Normal service is about to be resumed," said a voice just before the end. "We regret any inconvenience caused." Well, not that much inconvenience -only 15 minutes down the drain - but I won't be around for the apology next week.

Crime Story (ITV) was even more depressing - an unedifying and shapeless reconstruction of the Leicester Hot Dog Wars, between rival gangs of burger vendors. It's best summarised as the story of how one fat bully killed another one,and it was the dramatic equivalent of a fat-soaked frankfurter - a thugwurst, perhaps. The performances were inept but the script didn't deserve any better. The one good touch was the bouquet at Fat Gary's funeral, a floral rendering of a hot dog, complete with rosebud ketchup. But I suspect real life should get the credit for that.

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