Sport On TV: Fun and games in after-midnight sports marathon

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The Independent Online
I NEVER bothered to get my telly retuned to receive Channel 5 - no point, I thought, sniffily. So it was not until recently, when I invested in a new set, that I was able to enjoy its sports coverage. In fact, as the end of the year approaches, and brickbats and bouquets are dished out, my personal gong goes to C5 for their excellent and varied programming, which has been especially vigorous in its coverage of American sport.

Live And Dangerous, their after-midnight sports marathon, has been of a consistently high quality, and is probably why Channel 4's Under The Moon passed away unlamented this week. On Thursday, for example, LAD presenters Kevin Day and Mark Webster (slightly laddish but not overbearingly so) first conducted some intelligent conversation with Carlton Palmer (quiet at the back), then spoke to the author of a book about the history of refereeing, and to an odds-maker about the latest football betting (the 8-1 about Dynamo Kiev to win the European Cup being considerably inferior to the 14s secured by myself and a colleague - an optimistic bet, perhaps, though somewhat less so than my friend's flutter on QPR to win the First Division at 200-1). Later, there was a top-of-the-table Dutch game between Vitesse and Feyenoord, and later still (past my bedtime, anyway), action from the latter stages of the Brazilian championship between Santos and Cruzeiro. All very late, but then that's what videos are for.

Apart from the football from around the world, there has been what must have been baseball's best ever season - much of it live - NHL ice hockey and American football (the latter not to my taste, but it's good to have as a bastion against Sky). As I say, I fondly imagined my life was better without C5. And indeed, with the exceptions of the sport and Xena: Warrior Princess (for fetish fans everywhere) that's the case. But they're two big exceptions.

And so farewell to Under The Moon, that dire late-night farrago of crap chat and embarrassing set-ups. Co-presenter Danny Kelly seemed a nice enough bloke, but it became all too familiar an experience to flip channels briefly before going to bed to find him wide-eyed and vacant, all rabbits and headlights while he waited for a thought to enter his head. A succession of co-anchors provided little in the way of substance and a great deal in the way of mindless dross.

The programme's low point (at least, the lowest point witnessed by this viewer, which might not be saying all that much) was the occasion last year when they gave the former Greg Chappell as long as he liked to plug his "hair replacement system" - though I suspect it was not so much a question of product placement as of Kelly not being able to think of anything else to say and there being no post-pub morons clogging up the phone-in lines with their lager-lout prejudices. Wednesday's programme, so a friend informed me, contained a fitting epitaph when one caller rang in to inform Kelly's colleague, Lisa Rogers, that his preferred mode of watching her was with the remote in one hand and, er, something else entirely in the other.

A few sour sorts have spent the past week carping about the gong given to Michael Owen's for being voted BBC Sports Personality of The Year. Unlike Iwan Thomas, Denise Lewis and the rest of the shortlist - and as the lad himself has reiterated tirelessly over the last couple of weeks - he's won nothing yet.

Except the hearts of the nation, and that's what counts. The award has seldom been given for sporting success - indeed, it has consistently served to buttress that quintessentially British notion of glorious defeat. The Sportswriters' Association gave their awards last Monday to Thomas and Lewis, both bedecked with precious metals after a year of solid achievement. And rightly so - that's precisely what the sportswriters should be doling out awards for.

But public opinion is another matter entirely, and the Sports Personality of The Year award should be about precisely that: personality. The award is not about success so much as capturing the popular imagination - witness Paul Gascoigne's award in 1990, received largely on the back of his World Cup waterworks. Owen at least got his gong for football - at least, the five seconds or so it took him to score his tumultuous goal against Argentina.

In that moment, and as he subsequently raced towards the England end with his hands held out in front of him, almost in supplication to God for allowing him to execute such a magnificent piece of artistry, the strange sculpture that passes for the BBC trophy became his personal property.

As for the rest of the Sports Review Of The Year (BBC1, Sunday), 'tis the season to be generous, so perhaps I should finish before I start. Perhaps it is a reflection of the BBC's deteriorating relationship with sport, but it was a curiously low-key affair - the audience looked glum, the interviews were bland and perfunctory and the comic relief, provided as it was by the impressionist Kevin Connolly, was grimly unfunny, though the impersonations themselves, as usual, were quite brilliant.

And finally... last week I wrote about the BBC's They Think It's All Over. Walker's would like me to point out that Gary Lineker is still under contract to them, and also that their crisps are not "fried in lard and chemicals". And my favourite flavour is roast chicken...

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