First Night: BBC Television News - Corners are cut, but relaunch is good feng

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The Independent Online
A NEWS broadcast is rather sharply divided between two sets of ingredients - those you control, such as the set, running order, colour scheme and presentational flavour - and those you don't, namely the news itself.

And if you're unveiling a long-awaited makeover, there will be a premium on finding a good headline to set off the occasion. The new-look BBC Six O'Clock News can probably be forgiven then for leading with the Serbian declaration that it was pulling some troops out of Kosovo, rather than ITN's subtler, but probably more significant top story on increasing parliamentary criticism of the conduct of the war.

What about the rest though, the "clearer, warmer, more accessible" mood the designer Martin Lambie-Nairn was aiming to achieve? Later, the same new set also formed the backdrop to the Nine O'Clock News, fronted by Peter Sissons.

At Six O'Clock, the mood is scarcely unbuttoned: Huw Edwards sits square on at the desk, two overlapping circles which soften the geometry of that familiar newsreaders' badge of office (Trevor McDonald has an ellipse too, as if corners are now bad broadcast feng shui).

We don't see him across the expanse of a cold, blue electronically generated room, but close-to - sometimes bordered by a pillar of beige on which identifying images are inserted in another softened ellipse, sometimes turned sideways to converse with reporters in the field.

The colours are undeniably warmer but they are blander too - it was odd to see, watching the first bulletin, how the same palette featured in Madeleine Albright's backdrop of Europe, in the media room of the Burnley police station where an officer announced that a missing 12-year-old had been found safe, even in the Jill Dando murder-investigation room - magnolia, peach and a muddy orange - the unthreatening, innocuous colours of public spaces.

The newsroom is visible behind Edwards, but it too is half- concealed beneath a skim of sepia, an animated version of the Victorian mural in a theme pub.

Editorially, though, this is not a muted broadcast, and not dumbed-down. It offers the tabloid stories - child's arm torn off in launderette horror, developments in the Dando case - but only after the broadsheet business has been completed, with Edwards marking a kind of watershed in the programme with a halftime menu which tops up the viewers' will to watch. The real test will come on a more difficult news day - but inoffensive is actually not a bad way to start.

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