TELEVISION / He doesn't play dice, He plays with the remote

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The Independent Culture
GOD displayed His sense of humour on Saturday night. Or perhaps I should write 'Her'. Seventy-eight minutes into Ireland's game against Italy, with the Italians pressing hard against the Irish penalty box, He or She started playing with the zapper, using a couple of small thunderstorms in Dallas to interrupt transmission. For those in the Dublin Exhibition Centre who were still conscious (the bars had opened six hours before kick-off) it all went black for a couple of heart-stopping seconds.

I haven't watched much of the World Cup coverage so far but this was the second communications breakdown I'd seen - on Friday night it sounded as if the BBC Outside Broadcast team had transmitted the opening ceremony by means of a large tin-can and a transatlantic piece of string. It was probably to do with something boring like sunspots or broken cables but I refuse to believe that anything short of a sense of Divine mischief could account for the opening ceremony itself. Making Oprah fall off the podium and Diana miss an open goal - what a double for the Big Guy]

There had been no interference before the second half of the Ireland-Italy game because until then God had been perfectly happy watching NYPD Blue (C4), one of the week's most reliable pleasures. Saturday's episode was the last in the current series, which meant that the odd loose end was tied up. Or untied, in the case of Jenny Bucci, who turned up not to have been buried in a shallow grave for the past two years, and was restored to her grieving father in what amounted to an end of term treat for loyal viewers. I wasn't crying, I just happened to accidentally poke myself in both eyes with my biro - it can be a hazardous occupation, television reviewing.

Those devoted to the series (and they form a lobby group more energetic than the pharmaceutical industry and the brewers combined) mostly love it despite its technique of affected incompetence. When filming exterior scenes or action the jerky camerawork is only mildly irritating. It does, in truth, add a flavour of immediacy and realism. It's entirely synthetic, but that doesn't matter - the sense that the image is hard-won works with the grain of the stories. Intimate dialogue fares less well - if two actors are sitting on either side of a desk it's hard to work out why even the least competent cameraman should have trouble keeping them in frame. Here the affectation is distracting - you start to wonder whether the cameraman in question is actually blind and is trying to locate the actor by sound alone. Even Video Nation does better than this, which suggests the conceit may have got out of hand.

Some would apply the same verdict to Kenneth Clarke. He's clearly completely at ease with himself, but does that mean he's a good honest bloke or just a bad judge of character? Michael Cockerell's The Bloke Next Door (BBC 2), the latest in a series of profiles of contemporary politicians, trod a nice line between these extremes, tracing a determined, confrontational route to the top but apparently enjoying the company along the way.

Often Cockerell's programmes are made possible by the fact that the subject has a book to sell (Healey, Alan Clark et al); in this case it was an ambition that was in the shop window - Clarke's unabashed appetite for Number 10. But the aimiable nature of the programme - the credits were in Blue Note graphics, an in-joke about Clarke's passion for jazz - didn't mean that it was just an advert for a political product. With a question about Clarke's mother's alcoholism, Cockerell showed it was possible to prise that jolly mask away a fraction to show the face beneath.

The World Cup on television, page 39

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