The week on television: Undead series roam the schedules

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The Independent Online
This week Last Chance Lottery (C4, Sat) celebrated the joys of losing, and the biggest loser of all was Channel 4 itself. Unless you count Princess Margaret, victim on Secret Lives (C4, Wed) of the most brutal mugging ever administered to a royal personage. So farewell then, Michael Grade. Like Margaret, you had a phallic smoking habit, the Mail got the wrong end of the stick and dubbed you pornographer-in-chief. Hello, procrastinator-in-chief Alan Yentob, who will be eyeing up the vacancy. For BBC news he delivered a respectful obituary on Grade's reign while trying not to look like the cat who got the cream.

Filling Grade's shoes may cure Yentob once and for all his famous indecisiveness, which he certainly won't be needing at a channel entirely reliant on outside talent. No one can really decide what Yentob's current job actually is but it's something to do with paperclipping television and radio production together under one umbrella (or umbrellorate, as it's known at Birt's brave new Beeb). He'd be far better employed at Channel 4, doing useful things like axing Last Chance Lottery (or consigning it to the dustbinate).

The show's studio audience are united by two things: they didn't pick this week's winning numbers, and they've been warmed up to within a single fahrenheit of melting point. Every time their pixyish host Patrick Kielty completes a sentence, up goes another cheer. (Cheer!) In the first programme there were 163 completely unwarranted eruptions of noise. (Cheer!) The floor manager, whose job is to prompt the audience, must have picked up an industrial injury. (Cheer!)

In a nod to its roots, the show incorporated a rehash of Crackerjack, which depended on the near religious responses of its discipular audience. This is the way television is going, treating its past as a bottomless pit of cheap ideas. Tomorrow's light entertainment will be the biggest loser, when there'll be nothing to be nostalgic about except nostalgia itself. Bizarrely, the programme feels like nothing so much as a homage to Chris Evans, who used to host a rabble-rousing show live on Channel 4 in which, like Kielty, he got to sing us out over the credits. Perhaps everything really has been done on television and, instead of being laid to rest, undead programmes are condemned to read the schedules.

Look at Channel 4's other innovations this week. There is nothing in Fortean TV (C4, Wed) that wouldn't go away if you waved a crucifix at it. Handily, it's fronted by a clergyman. Where freak-show presenters Carol Voderman and Michael Aspel have already trodden, there follows the Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe (singing us out over the credits). There was something fishily repetitive about the first three reports on fish- tailed mermaids, on fish falling from the sky, and fish in Turkey who cure psoriasis. Next week they'll run a report on the unexplained evaporation of Fortean TV's editor.

And what about Pet Rescue (C4, every weekday), a raid on Anthea Turner's Pet Power (ITV, Wed) presented by her earthier sister Wendy? Even Brass Eye (C4, Wed) couldn't ambush the viewer with unalloyed invention. Many of Chris Morris's daredevil skills were honed on the scarcely dissimilar The Day Today, and his script associate Peter Baynham has been doing comparable stuntwork on Armando Iannucci's two Armistice series. And special thanks to Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews for all that surreal gaggery previously workshopped on Father Ted.

This is not to say that much of it wasn't brilliant. And pertinent: the item about an elephant who had anally ingested her own trunk brought to mind the hideous deformity of Ruby Wax's encounter with Tom Hanks (BBC1, Mon). But it's debatable whether half the fun of a satire should come with working out whether the guest celebrities are in on the joke or not (as Hanks so transparently was). Some of them plainly weren't: on the phone Baywatch's Alexandra Paul advised Morris to put out a press release over AP. "Over a pea?" he replied, dumbstruck. But other celebs have cannily made a second career out of sending themselves up. Step forward, Messrs Parsons and Daniels, and Ms Ekland, who all knew what was required. On Last Chance Lottery there was a running joke about Ed Stewart's fee. But Stewart, pocketing the cheque, laughed longer than anyone else.

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