MEDIA: INTERACTIVE CURRENT AFFAIRS - TV remains enamoured of Joe Public/Despite being vulnerable to accusations of fakery, TV current affairs shows appear happy to allow viewer participation to continue to drive their agendas

Things are looking good at Channel 5 at the moment. Not only has the station’s shareholder Warburg Pincus and Co distributed a cool pounds 4 million between the staff as a ’thank you’ bonus, but the channel’s audience share is on the up, increasing 26 per cent over the last year to 5.4 per cent, as the rest of terrestrial TV generally loses out to cable and satellite.

Things are looking good at Channel 5 at the moment. Not only has

the station’s shareholder Warburg Pincus and Co distributed a cool

pounds 4 million between the staff as a ’thank you’ bonus, but the

channel’s audience share is on the up, increasing 26 per cent over the

last year to 5.4 per cent, as the rest of terrestrial TV generally loses

out to cable and satellite.



This confidence is reflected in some adventurous commissions, such as

Talk TV. The weekly, hour-long location-based current affairs programme,

made by ITN, goes live at 9am on 24 March.



Up against Trisha and Kilroy on ITV and BBC1, Talk TV will come live

from one of the locations making the headlines in that week’s news. It

will be presented Channel 5’s News at Noon presenter Rob Butler, with

locally filmed and edited inserts from Discovery and C5 News presenter

Ruth England.



The aim is to cover the week’s national stories from a local viewpoint

and to find local tales with a national resonance. It is a bold move and

a further sign that the nature of the current affairs show is

changing.



The buzzwords in TV at the moment are ’interactive current affairs’,

describing those shows where audience participation is key.



Of course, this type of programming has had to change due to the bad

publicity generated by shows such as Vanessa, which was slammed for

hiring fakes to appear on the programme. The changes are also prompted,

however, by technological advances. Both Talk TV and Sky News’ Your Call

rely on technology that was not an option five years ago.



Talk TV can create packages with low-cost filming and editing

techniques, using digital cameras and laptop computer-based editing

systems, allowing multi-skilled journalists to go into the field alone.

Your Call uses e-mail as well as telephone calls to drive the show’s

agenda and uses viewer e-mails to help decide the following day’s

programme content.



Nonetheless, there are those who are warning against an obsession with

technology. Doug Carnegie, producer of factual programmes at Carlton

Television, introduced the studio audience current affairs show to the

UK back in 1986 with Central Weekend Live. The show is still on the air

and Carnegie says this is all down to content.



’You can have all the e-mails and disembodied callers and OB units in

the world, but what the audience love most of all is seeing an argument

between policy makers and the people those policies directly affect,’ he

says. ’That’s what interactive current affairs is about.’





TALK TV



Michael Gooding



Position: Executive producer



Frequency: weekly



Broadcaster: C5



’Chris Shaw (head of factual programming at C5) was touting around for a

new daytime current affairs show and approached United and Pearson and

Sky and so on. I’d just arrived at ITN so they put me on the case.



I asked Chris what he liked and disliked about the competition in that

slot and came up with Talk TV.



’We’ll be doing OBs all over the UK, talking to people to get the local

angle on national stories. For the pilot, we were in a cafe in a

shopping centre, which is the place where people talk about issues

anyway. Rob Butler is brilliant at taking those sort of crowds and

bringing out the best in them. Our production arm Visual Voodoo is

staffed by loads of youngsters who are complete all-rounders on the

latest technology. This means we can send up one or two-person teams who

can film locally, edit on a laptop and produce three-minute packages in

about a day.



’We’re also tying up with local media to help with research and also to

take part in the show. So we’ll have a slot called something like ’Local

Newshound Speaks’, where the editor of the local paper explains the mood

of the town. Normally when you go into a local area, you’ll call the

local paper, slip your stringer pounds 20 then pretend it was all your

own work. This just makes that relationship explicit.’





YOUR CALL



Adam Harding



Position: On-line editor



Frequency: daily



Broadcaster: Sky News



’Your Call is a half-hour show on each day at 2.30pm, although we are

currently looking at introducing a second evening show. It’s basically a

studio presenter and one or two guests, then people phone or e-mail in

to yourcall@sky.com as the show goes on.



’At the start of the series two years ago, e-mail wasn’t as developed as

it is now in this country. We weren’t sure whether to include faxes and

letters in the viewers options, but we decided we shouldn’t as, by the

time someone’s walked to the letter box, the issue may have passed.



The beauty of e-mail is that, as you’re sitting in the control room and

the e-mails come in, you can either read them over the presenters

earpiece or just cut and paste them into the autocue. Often, e-mails

dictate the show’s agenda, so that we’ve done lots of stuff on the right

in Austria because our viewers have been concerned about it. When we

covered the Kosovo bombings, we were getting up to 8,000 e-mails a day,

ranging from a Serb saying ’I’m not a character in a Playstation game.

If you hit me, it really is game over’, to Kosovars hailing the

raids.



’We’re hoping to introduce a live chat room with a moderator in the

summer. As more people go on-line, the show’s just going to keep on

evolving.’





CENTRAL WEEKEND LIVE



Doug Carnegie



Position: Producer



Frequency: weekly



Broadcaster: ITV regional



’I’m in charge of Central Weekend Live for Central Television and Late

Night Live for Carlton, both of which are presented by Nicky Campbell.

Nicky’s been presenting for us since 1989.



’From the outset we were aware of the ratings problems that dry current

affairs issues could face so we were prepared to mix debate on Bosnia

with, say, a feature on ’do big girls have more fun?’ if Melinda

Messenger had been in the news. Our lighter stuff is always related to

news stories. We won’t just pluck a subject out of the air.



’When newspapers first saw this, they couldn’t get to grips with it at

all. ’How can you mix those subjects?’ they’d ask. The answer is simple.

In the same way that newspapers do. You have the big story on the front

page and the lighter features towards the back.



’In the Central region and in London our shows are split by ITV’s 11pm

news, so we sort of treat them as two shows. We’re still beating the

BBC, although when we launched Central Weekend we’d get 50 to 60 per

cent share because we’d be up against Newsnight and a subtitled Bunuel

film. The TV landscape is different now.’ Nonetheless, we beat the BBC

big film four times out of six and I’m pretty happy with that.’



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