New slot, new channel - but still the same old chat

Richard & Judy, Channel 4
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The Independent Online

In recent months Channel Four has reserved its 5pm slot for real estate programmes such as A Place in the Sun – late afternoon daydream fodder for those approaching retirement and hoping to trade in the family home for something a bit more exciting.

Yesterday it was the turn of a middle-aged London couple, who had decided to swap their substantial detached residence in the morning schedules for more modest accommodation in a quite different location. After years of anchoring This Morning, Richard and Judy moved to Channel Four – and they can't have been the only ones worrying about culture shock.

Given the sums of money involved in this relocation there couldn't help but be an unintended irony to one of the first items in the new show – an interview with the Irish couple who'd found themselves on the right side of a £250,000 bank error.

"Be honest," Judy asked her new viewers as she appealed for phone calls, "what would you do? Would you give the money back?" If Richard and Judy fail to deliver what Channel 4 has been hoping for, a very similar kind of question may occur to the commissioning editor responsible for their extremely lucrative two-year contract.

When they announced their decision to move, Richard explained the couple wanted to "try something different", but the desire for new challenges wasn't greatly in evidence in the slightly frenzied selection box they offered yesterday.

No cookery spots or makeovers, it's true, but there were celebrity interviews, Amanda Holden and Les Dennis insisting on the unspotted nature of their marital bliss; consumer alerts, Oldham council ferreting through people's bins in an act of furtive sociology; and a leavening of outright dim-wittedness. This was supplied by what Richard called "one of the spookiest videos we've ever seen", which turned out to be an image of a man sitting in a chair. Apparently if you stared fixedly at the bridge of his nose you could see him "transfigure" into different people. If you'd never heard of facial muscles it would have been terrifying.

Richard was as garrulously indiscreet as ever, describing Amanda Holden's infidelity as, "one of those silly things that people do, that we've all done" and gravely informing viewers that he incinerates all his mail before discarding it, while Judy adopted her familiar look of incipient panic, as if the producer has just told her something appalling through the earpiece but she's decided to press on regardless.

The programme concluded with a phone-in quiz, the lucky caller getting the chance to win a cash prize by describing mystery objects without using their real names. This started off slightly awkwardly since Joan from Dunfermline mysteriously decided the best verbal paraphrase for a hamster was, "something that would keep you very warm". As the hosts vainly worked their way through insulating materials Richard bounced up and down in frustration at not being able to give away money.

He understands that if all else fails it may well take outright bribery to ensure they don't get evicted from their new home.