Friday 15 December 2017

Vincent Hogan: No place for colour TV in jaded, banal picture

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

It seems that job-demarcation issues lie behind Colin Murray's imminent departure as 'Match of the Day 2' anchor.

He mistook the gig for some kind of comedy store slot, discovering too late that the studio props weren't laughing. Silly boy. Murray now faces another four months of exploring the bottomless pit of Alan Hansen's wisdom whilst keeping a straight face and, presumably, suppressing the urge to sneer.

Their end-of-season wrap party should be a real rib-tickler.

As TV people go, Murray is maybe easy to dislike, a little too smirky and self-regarding to convince you that his interest in any topic extends an iota beyond the panache of his own delivery.

And that's maybe the worst thing to forget when adjudicating a discussion about sport, the fact that it matters desperately to people. Viewers are tune in for illumination, not punchlines. In this, good television today hasn't really changed from what constituted good television 30 years ago.

It's why Ryan Tubridy making Billy Connolly look disengaged and bored still gets a certain generation to pine for the days Gay Byrne could draw comic genius from, say, Peter Ustinov by simply knowing how.

Murray, it seems, committed the cardinal sin of inserting himself a little too much into the Sunday night discussion, triggering gentle on-screen rebukes from Hansen and – reputedly – the considerable off-screen disapproval of that other horizontal Alan, Shearer.


He will, thus, step down at season's end, replaced by someone less susceptible to bouts of insubordination.

It seems that dear old Aunty wants its Sunday night programme to follow, more faithfully, the formal stricture of its Saturday night show. Which is a pity. Because Saturday nights with Gary Lineker have become paeans to complacency, super-smug, golf-buddy rituals where platitude is spooned out with all the care of soup ladled by workers in a jailhouse canteen.

Lineker is ultra-professional, very polished, remotely likeable even. But he is also about as real as something you'd hang from your rear-view mirror. You get the sense with Gary of everything having been so painstakingly rehearsed, he probably couldn't order pizza without an autocue.

This woodenness accommodates Hansen and Shearer perfectly. Whilst the latter has never had anything conspicuously interesting to declare – publicly at least – in his life, the former has now perfected the art of saying equally little, yet all the time looking like he's worn down by the tumultuous weight of his own knowledge.

Last week, Tony Adams challenged Hansen's critique of Aston Villa's current troubles, questioning the convenience of distilling a story down into one single, seductive line, in this instance Villa's predominantly young defenders.

"He just picked a theme: ages," said Adams. "Next week, it'll be another theme: too old. Or they have two left-footers."

And, in a curious way, Murray's looming departure from 'Match of the Day 2' may now embolden others to question the relevance of pundits who, increasingly, come across jaded and unoriginal when set against those emerging on other studio sets.

This isn't to suggest, incidentally, that the key to good punditry resides in the strident showmanship favoured by some on this side of the Irish Sea. Sometimes a loud voice is just noise.

Gary Neville was accused this week of pushing a Manchester United agenda in his work with Sky, though the genesis of that criticism dulled any lasting impact. For it came from Richard Keys, a man who probably believed he had a job with Sky for life until finding himself embroiled in the sexism scandal that, ultimately, cost him his job.

In a previous existence, I worked with Keys for a London sports agency. He was likeable and ultra-professional and I find it hard now not to feel sad for him as he watches his 'baby' carried by others.

But Neville is infinitely better as a pundit than Richard's old sidekick, Andy Gray, and – frankly – I couldn't even name the chap now doing anchor. Which, presumably, means he's rather good at his job.

The point is Neville has interesting things to say and, even for those of us who saw him as someone cursed with a tail and cloven hooves during his playing days, he has suddenly become a candid, challenging football voice.

The most intelligent piece I've read on Luis Suarez came recently under Neville's byline. It appeared the day of United's game with Liverpool at Old Trafford, exactly one week after Suarez's hand-ball against Mansfield so fixated the football media.

After a week in which most media dialogue on the Uruguayan seemed to revolve around the word 'cheat', Neville questioned the rush to – as he put it – castigate a player whose background and life experiences would have been so profoundly different from anyone even reading his column.

The old-school style would have been to adopt a tone of piety, particularly given Suarez's previous history. To lecture. But Neville didn't do that. He said that dopers and match-fixers were cheats. A footballer guilty of a handball was, well, just a footballer.

Last Sunday night, Colin Murray pretty much shouted down Pat Nevin's efforts to bring a similar kind of rigour into the Beeb studio. It came across as clumsy, smart-ass television from an anchor seemingly convinced that his public couldn't possibly have the requisite attention span for anything beyond the blindingly banal.

That's what happens in a soundbyte world. You look down the camera lens and see nothing beyond your own reflection.

But Murray wasn't the only one talking to himself.

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