In the wrong job

Simon Tyers looks at how some presenters and ex-players are not cut out for television

“Kayfabe” is a concept that is not widely known outside professional wrestling. Broadly speaking, it refers to the presentation of fictional or scripted events and opinions as reality. The term needs to be introduced to a wider audience as a way of defining what is going on with the viewer text and email sections that litter The Football League Show like overheating Corsas on the hard shoulder of the M25. You would imagine that the appeal of hearing comments about your club from supporters of other clubs would wither over time. On The Football League Show this sense that people are barging in on your business is heightened when the epithets are being read out by Jacqui Oatley’s co-host, Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes.

The latter is a former Newsround presenter and like many a children’s presenter graduating to dealing with adults, she hasn’t quite worked out how to adjust. Attempts at jovial empathy give her the air of a student teacher struggling to organise third years into a respectable line for the school photo. Implicit in her delivery is the notion that the views of lower division fans don’t need to be taken too seriously. At the bank of monitors behind her, there will often be shots of Manish Bhasin, Steve Claridge and their occasional guest from across the studio, making out that they care. Sometimes Bhasin seems to be listening and occasionally reacting with little nods.

More often, usually if his close-up shot is on a smaller monitor, he forgets. During the September 5 programme he was caught chatting to Claridge before suddenly breaking off so as to look attentive. Two weeks later, he’d clearly been told to seem like he was positively engaging with our views, putting questions based on the messages to the panel. Unfortunately he met the irresistable force and immoveable object that is Robbie Savage, who’d already managed to put himself off by dropping the pen he was fiddling with mid-flow. Teased with a query as to whether Blackpool had a reliable goalscorer, Savage’s response was not especially reassuring: “I don’t know about players from other clubs.”

At least his appearance seems to have been a one-off – if it wasn’t intended to be it probably became so after the next planning meeting. By contrast, ITV’s faith in Teddy Sheringham is almost touching. The network has signed a post-Setanta Steve McManaman, who visibly surprised Andy Townsend by actually criticising Liverpool after their opening Champions League victory, so we may not see as much of him as had been feared following his arrival at the end of last season.

Sheringham, meanwhile, has made his mark by reducing the disciplines of television punditry to their lowest functioning levels. His contributions during England v Croatia only rarely got past the basics of football analysis while often failing as expressions of spoken English. Before the game he made a passing reference to Eduardo’s diving as if to set up a joke before realising he couldn’t complete it. At half time, critiquing Emile Heskey’s performance, he found that once he’d got past “he’s put through onto the keeper” his powers of description failed him, so Andy Townsend had to butt in to complete the thought about how Heskey should have done better.

From one 1990s England striker finding he just wasn’t made for these televisual times to another. The ongoing quest of television producers to find Ian Wright something to do has led to Live From Studio Five, quite the most pointless hour of prime-time anywhere on terrestrial and one which managed to lose half its audience in the first week. Bad enough that someone thought an hour of inconsequential chatter would be the sort of thing an evening schedule could centre around. What makes it especially unappealing, however, is Wright’s perpetual gurning and rocking about from a seated position. When on England pundit duty he has shown a tendency to shift about constantly as if sitting on drawing pins. Now, during the overearnest discussion of celebrity topics of the day he seems to be, at the risk of launching a colourful new euphemism, auditioning for Michael Flatley under the desk.

Wright starts each show at such a celebratory level that you wonder how he’s ever going to simmer down. As the show staggers on, and co-presenters Melinda Messenger and Kate Walsh continue talking across him, it becomes evident that all that nervous energy is masking deep boredom. Unfortunately, for all his efforts, the viewer responds in the same way.

From WSC 273 November 2009