Paul Ross On Broadcasting

The dog's dinner that is ITV serves up nothing but casual contempt
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The Independent Online

Tonight is the last night of the third – and, one hopes, final – series of the excruciating Hell's Kitchen. Which made for some gripping viewing in the first few days, then degenerated into a pudding of malice and cowardice.

And you don't have to be Dr Gregory House to diagnose what the symptoms that it displayed say about the split personality that characterises ITV at present. They want ratings and they also want respect. They want to attract a new audience without losing the old. They want to be different and daring but keep it all safe enough to sell shed-loads of soap powder.

All laudable but, more often than not, mutually contradictory aims, a bit like eating your cake but then still having it. So what you invariably get is the clunk of a drunk falling between two stools. And then occasionally – as with the dog's dinner that was Hell's Kitchen – a cock-up on a monumental scale, one that effortlessly displays the "casual contempt" for the viewer that Michael Grade insists will be strictly verboten. That's a platitudinous pledge that's already haunting him.

So let's dissect the soon-to-be festering corpse of HK3. Here's the thing: no one seems to have learnt anything from the scandal of the last Celebrity Big Brother. If anything, it looks as if ITV1, jealous of the tabloid and broadsheet coverage generated by that appalling spectacle, deliberately set out to engineer their own recipe for an offensive row – stirring casual racism, a soupçon of sexism and a hefty portion of homophobia into the basic bullying mix.

That surely can be the only reason for booking Jim Davidson (the day before the day before yesterday's man) to appear on the show with the former Big Brother housemate Brian Dowling. If the producers did not predict the cruel and cringe-inducing scenes that ultimately unfolded, then they're fools – and they most definitely are not that.

So, they wanted the ex-Generation Game host to degenerate to his most neanderthal. They'd booked him precisely so he could display his unthinking, unpleasant and, of course, unfunny side. And to insult and upset to the point of tears Adele Silva, the Emmerdale actress – and, of course, Brian Dowling.

What is worse, they believed (and must still believe) that we wanted to see it too – that we would enjoy or at least find edifying the almost sociopathic bullying Brian and Adele endured. Casual contempt for us or what?

And when the victims had been hurt and bullied and infuriated enough by the show's "star booking", the producers stepped in to try to reclaim the moral lowlands – and nick a few tabloid page leads into the bargain – by asking Davidson to leave before he was jumped.

We never saw him challenged; we only heard his version of events. And we were treated to the puke-inducing spectacle of Marco Pierre White practically licking Davidson into his limo, never having once tried to put an end to his bullying antics, or even to question them.

Quite the reverse, in fact, given that White was sniggering away at Jim's single entendres seconds after Adele had been reduced to tears. The only time he asserted his authority was when Lee Ryan respectfully and reasonably asked him to stop using the derogatory term for Travellers, pikeys, as an all-purpose epithet. Angus Deayton's sneering autocue asides barely even began to redress the balance.

Because this is, after all, the 21st century, and any term that can reduce children (and adults) to tears is unacceptable when unchallenged. As is concocting scenarios when such abuse is inevitable: exactly what happened with the tasteless and unappetising Hell's Kitchen.

Paul Ross is a television and radio broadcaster

Local news slashed? But who will report on cats up trees?

Predictable howls of anguish greeted the ITV announcement this week that regional news services are to be savaged. But the truth is, local television news is too long, and largely piss-poor. It is also, for most viewers, about as local as a bulletin from Bulgaria, due to the unwieldy and baffling nature of most independent television regions.

Meridian, for example, covers an area from the Kent side of the Thames estuary right the way round to Basingstoke – a banana-shaped region that doesn't even have a unifying central town, and certainly lacks any sense of overall identity. And while there are splintered newsrooms within such unwieldy areas – opt-outs for Southampton, Kent and so on – they still cover such a huge area that most of the news is irrelevant to the vast majority who are half watching.

I was in Chelmsford for a wedding recently. Chelmsford in Essex, from where a huge number of people commute to London. Yet the local news in the hotel was provided by Anglia, and seemed largely to focus on cats stuck up trees in Norwich, and what was washed up on the beach at Great Yarmouth.

Then there's the ridiculous decision to waste half an hour every weeknight on regional bulletins. There isn't enough news in most regions to justify a weekly 30-minute bulletin, never mind a nightly one. Just consider how little real news there is in your weekly local paper – if you bother taking one at all – and then tell me I'm wrong.

So we end up with reports that are padded out and contrived, and often days out of date by the time they're transmitted. Local TV news is news lite, and could be covered in a five-minute spray of headlines. If a local story's big enough to be featured at length on the telly, it should be on the national news.

Then there's also the cash haemorrhage that occurs every time a regional news show wheels out the OB wagon to go live to a country fair, or an already opened new bypass, or the steps of a courthouse where the verdict was announced four hours before.

The national news is guilty of some of the above sins, and is irritatingly ring-fenced from proper competition by schedulers: the BBC runs its 30-minute national bulletin first, then goes local with a service that's even worse and more wasteful than ITV's; ITV reverses the order. But it's too much to hope that the air time given to the portentous piffle of "correspondents" will be slashed just yet.

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