Set pieces 

1 January 2002

Andrew Bowden looks at screen furniture from ITN

Here at Newsdesk, we’ve taken a good look at the current BBC News corporate look but news in this country is more than just the BBC, and each of the main commercial broadcasters have their own news services. ‘ITV News’, Channel 4 News and Channel 5 News are all produced by ITN. Each is different, with a wide variety of styles used across the three channels.

The current ITV News look dates back to March 1999. It was introduced as part of a major shake-up of the ITV’s news output, which included the axing of the long standing News at Ten and the main news bulletin moved to 18:30. In the end, News at Ten returned, albeit only four (and sometimes three) nights a week, and not necessarily even at 10pm.

The new look remixed the old theme tune. The new version, for some unknown reason, contained the chimes of Big Ben for all programmes – previously they’d been reserved only for News at Ten. Quite why they were included is a mystery – with bulletins at 12:30, 6:30 and at a random time after 11pm, Big Ben was hardly going to be chiming the hour!

With the rather bizarre use of a bong usually reserved for the top of the hour, came a set that didn’t inspire much confidence either. The studio is dressed with wooden fixtures, and blue and red background. It gives an impression that it was designed for a game show rather than a serious news programme. Indeed, the large screen to the right of the presenter looks like it was borrowed from the set of Catchphrase, and then given a quick respray.

The 1999 new look was the first time that the ITN logo wasn’t displayed in programme titles. In the New World Order, it was replaced by the ITV logo. Given the rather garish and tacky look of the programme, if I was ITN, I’m not sure I’d really want to be associated with the programme anyway.

ITV really don’t have much to be proud about with their news presentation, unlike their colleagues at Channel 4. Channel 4 News shows exactly what ITN can do, given a chance. Like the BBC and ITV, Channel 4 News got a new look in 1999, introduced in January. Designed by Simon Jago, who was responsible for the original Channel 5 News studio, the set is decorated in dark and rather moody colours. The title sequence took a very daring approach, being dominated by black, overlaid with whites, purples, blues and greens. The studio is furnished with sofas, armchairs and a coffee table – not a desk in sight.

If you’d never seen it, you’d think this all sounds rather depressing and dismal. You’d be wrong. The deep colours, coupled with fantastic lighting, work together fantastically to create a set with that looks great, but doesn’t distract the eye from what’s important: the news.

If anyone was to ask me what colour news is, I’d say blue. There’s no real competition. It’s been used on so many news sets and title sequences over the years, probably more than any other colour beside black and white. The latest set from Channel 5 News uses it quite extensively.

Channel 5 News started in 1997 with a very colourful set. In the year 2000, it opted for a rather bright white background. In 2002, it went blue.

The programme has also been known for its rather innovative approach to presentation. The early days saw Kirsty Young walking round the studio talking to reporters, and reading news headlines whilst leaning against a desk. One memorable moment saw Kirsty interviewing an uncomfortable looking Tony Blair, perching on the desk edge.

Whilst Kirsty didn’t get to sit behind her desk, sports reporters did, until January 2002 anyway. The newest incarnation of Channel 5 News saw the desks thrown away, replaced by a strange curved bench which presenters half sit, half lean on.

Despite the rather strange seating arrangements, the current Channel 5 News look is rather traditional in style. In close up shots, it is hard to tell that the presenters aren’t sat at a desk. Graphics and captions are displayed in the over the shoulder style used by news programmes for many years, and the chosen colour scheme is much less colourful than it used to be. The current studio uses shades of blue with silver, both very traditional news colours, offset by orange used graphics.

The title sequence is more colourful and comes complete with the do-do, de do-do, de-do theme tune, used since 1997. Whilst early Channel 5 News sets broke the mould, it seems as if Channel 5 News is maturing and calming down now that its reaching the dizzy heights of five years old. If they continue at this rate, Kirsty Young will be sitting behind a desk before too long. On the other hand, it may start rebelling again a few years down the line. Only time will tell.

There is no doubt that in the mainstream commercial broadcasters, Channel 4 News really beats the competition hands down. Helped by a record of good journalism, the programme goes from strength to strength. Channel 5 News on the other hand seems a little to sedate, especially compared to its past. Given their recent attempts to get taken more seriously, perhaps this isn’t that surprising. As for ITV News, well the less said about that, the better…

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