Friday, October 19, 2001
While on a recent journey across Europe, I had the opportunity to watch even more bad television than I normally do – this time, in a range of languages I hardly understand.
Some of it was the same rubbish we get here, just given the exotic patina of being dubbed into Swiss German or the like. Anyone for ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ in French, or ‘Walker Texas Ranger’ in German, or my own favourite, ‘Robot Wars’ in Italian. Not a franchised Italian version of the show, mind, just the English programme with frantic Italian commentary: ‘Adesso, Iron Awe da Wolverhampton!’
It was the locally produced output that I was more interested in, and as I sat in my succession of hotel rooms, I was drawn to the sports coverage. I have little French, less Italian, and no German, but I even I could tell that Italian football shows could teach ITV and TV3 a lot about stylish presentation. And I don’t just mean the scantily clad lithe beauties that cavort across the screen as a staple part of seemingly every program in Italy.
The real highlight of the endless football coverage was the use of 3-D computer modelling of fouls and goalmouth incidents. Rather than just show the suspected dive from as many camera angles as they could (which would probably be more than enough for most people), the incident is then mapped in 3-D, and rendered in a full-screen version that can be zoomed, frozen and spun ad infinitem. For the final kicker, the presenter can be placed into the middle of this environment, to lean against a virtual goalpost, or stand next to a computer-generated player that’s as tall as he is.
Of course, this flashy stuff assumes you have rights to broadcast football in the first place. But not having the rights to Champions League matches doesn’t stop RAI offering a three hour footiefest on evenings when there are games. they improvise with the mad solution of having a panel of experts all watching different games on monitors that the audience can’t see. When something happens in one of the games, the expert pipes up, and describes the event. With the host leaping between the two storeys of experts, it looks like nothing so much as a bizarre version of ‘Blankety Blank’.
Maybe the BBC should consider this, as they have precious little sport left to show. If they can’t run to a panel of experts, they could follow the lead of one of the low-rent cable channels I saw: just have one man at a desk, watching one game, and giving live commentary of what he’s watching. It’s televised radio commentary – aside from a clock and a display of the latest score, it’s 90 minutes of watching the top of a bloke’s head while he watches the TV.
More generally Italian TV looks like it’s still 1975, complete with the Roman equivalent of ‘Seaside Special’, Pan’s People and ‘Live From Her Majesty’s’. The whole country is still entranced by the debatable delights of the variety show – you can’t move for big performance numbers, sequined top hats and three costume changes for the unctuous host. When there’s no football, this is prime-time TV. I’m glad to be back to a diet of ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Corrie’.