Keen to like Scotland’s new TV channel, Aidan Smith holds out for Pumpherston to be twinned with Paris
A few weeks ago there was a story about the test card being the second most-watched programme on STV. I think it was supposed to prompt astonishment, especially given that the static station logo pulled in more viewers than an episode of Taggart, but this telly addict wasn’t surprised.
I’m of the generation which spent much of its childhood screaming at the girl at the blackboard to stick a nought in the centre box and wipe that stupid grin from the toy clown’s face. We didn’t have a choice. TV was off air during the daytime, having closed down at midnight when our parents were expected to stand for the national anthem. This was deeply regrettable but perfectly understandable. The valves in the back of the box needed to cool down and of course the broadcasters had to go away and magic up some more programmes.
The story, although it speculated that the spike in viewing of the test card could have been caused by audience researchers falling asleep on the job, seemed to be having a dig at STV. Never mind, I said, trying to be supportive, just wait until the station launches its new channel.
And then last Monday it did. STV2 may not have impacted on your viewing habits or your lives just yet. With fewer than 100 reportedly tuning in for the chat show Live at Five, I think we can safely say that. The TV event of the past few days has been the finale of Line of Duty – but while you’ve been gripped by the last throw of the dice by the one-handed prime suspect, it’s been my duty to sit through a big chunk of what’s on offer on channel 117. If you tell me whodunnit, I’ll tell you the answers to Live at Five’s “Tea-Time Trivia” questions. All of them.
I pressed my remote just in time to hear the continuity announcer say: “And now on Scotland’s newest channel: classic drama … ” Cue the mournful theme to Take the High Road, which was a soap and not a drama the last time I looked, by accident back 1982. Was it being revived? No, merely repeated, and for those who remember such things, the location was the Glendarroch peat-shed where a dark deed had occurred.
Some wretched soul had suffered “a fatal blow to the back of the head with a blunt instrument”. I knew how he felt, especially when High Road was followed by another re-run, Taggart again, presumably hoping to grab back viewers from the test card and reclaim its place as the trusty overcoat, or bodybag, of crabbit Caledonian telly, never letting us down, never going away.
Wasn’t there anything new on STV2? Oh yes, the news bulletin at 7pm, covering events local, national and international. You’ll remember that BBC Scotland had a proposal for such a programme, the Scottish Six, and might wonder if there’s been another dark deed. If – at about the time of night everyone’s favourite polisman, Bill Knox, used to report on Late Call that the missing road compressor had turned up safe and well so we could sleep easy – STV jumped its rival down by the Clyde and stole the idea. I’d suggest calling in Taggart but he wouldn’t be impartial. Best hand this over to the Line of Duty boys.
Anchorwoman Halla Mohieddeen is supremely confident when juggling her agenda, unperturbed by quick juxtapositions of Pumpherston with Paris and San Francisco with Skinflats. (These haven’t happened yet but they’re the dream, right?). I winced, though, at some of the headlines. “He slit her throat from ear to ear” is verging on the Penny Dreadful.
I have to say I found the first week of STV2 pretty gruesome and am starting to wonder: “Is this what we’re like? Is this what we like?” Murder at Nine is an imported factual programme about how slayings happen in other countries. “Expect grisly or violent scenes,” said the announcer, licking her lips. “You have been warned!”
Where to find some respite from all this death, fictional or all too real? Live at Five, that secluded spot in the schedules which hardly anyone knows about, would seem the best bet. Here, a presenter will ask of the M8’s long-awaited improvements: “How many people have actually worked on the road?” Another will inquire of Scotland’s triumphant Grand National trainer: “How did it feel when One For Arthur actually won?” And a third will announce: “I’m actually standing behind the Hydro.” The latter will be so anxious to make sure he gets “actually” into his report that he initially doesn’t realise he’s in fact speaking from in front of the venue.
Bless them, they’re probably very excited about being part of “Scotland’s newest channel”, as well they should be. And sometimes that excitement can lead to the odd clanger, such as when a discussion about donations drying up at Scotland’s food banks is soon followed by the hosts and guests tucking into a meal whipped up by the resident chef. These are the perils of being Live at Five – problems which won’t be encountered by those who’re Potted Heid at Nine. A shaky start was perhaps to be anticipated, but I definitely expected more original programming from STV2 with even the soap, the Dublin-set Fair City, being bought in.
If you’re cynical you might suspect a unionist plot. What if STV2 is a televisual trojan horse? Firstly it endears itself by being shiny and new, but then a peek inside reveals rather too much glaikitness, causing us to wonder if we really can stand on our own two feet when tomorrow’s big tantaliser is “that Steps reunion”. Me, I’m not cynical at all and will keep watching in the hope it gets better.