The generic chainsaw 

24 May 2004

The new improved, world-beating, get-the-viewers-back and, more importantly, do the same with the advertisers, national ITV1 has arrived. Will Tudor is not so much unimpressed as sickened.

“Well, this is it. After seventeen years with you here in the Central region, this is my very last announcement. So from me, Ted May, all that remains is to say goodnight – and goodbye.”

Those where the final words of proper regional continuity we heard in the Carlton Central region. The next day, things would be very different. It seemed very strange at the time to think that we would never hear those voices again. All those regional names, all those idents, would be reduced to a pre-recorded announcement from London and a very small version of your region’s name if you where lucky. I, like many others, didn’t know exactly what we would see the following morning, but most of us new it wasn’t going to be good.

So, the following morning, I sat in my room, ready by my TV and VCR to record this moment. I just wished there was nothing to record, that it would all be a hoax and the familiar Carlton heart ident would welcome us again. But this was not to be. The special promo played out and the announcer welcomed us to ITV1. I admit I liked the promo… for a few seconds at least. Then I realised how awful the new look was going to be. It was, and still is, disgusting to think that all that history, the regional individuality had just gone overnight to be replaced by a single service with an ident package that would probably even make Lorraine Heggessey cringe.

Along came the first break and it was time to see how they were handled. The break bumper came on and did nothing. Well, it zoomed-in but that was all. All right, so it has a certain “retro” look to it, but to be honest, the heart break-bumpers where better. At least different versions of the heart ones appeared (though Carlton Central only ever showed such variations as the special programme-themed bumpers) and they did things other than just a zoom.

As far as the actual idents go, well by the end of the morning I was pretty sick of the many variants of the Ant and Dec ident as those where the ones played the most (though Gabby Logan did get a look in during one of the News junctions in This Morning). I admit to liking the new trailer style, as it is a total departure from the fairly dark and moody graphics used in recent efforts. I also like the four squares ‘thing’ using the ITV1 colours to underline the programme name during the trailer.

Of course, this new look may have robbed us of the majority of regional identity, but despite still having very small regional difference during regional news and programmes, it is now highly confused. For instance, announcers now refer to the Carlton Central region as “ITV1 Carlton for Central England”. Now, maybe it’s just me but, I get the feeling the powers that be at ITV1 are presenting us with the tricky regional branding in an attempt to make us hate all that is left of on-screen regional identity. I do have the feeling that within a few months the national generic announcements will creep into the regional feeds.

Ever since I had seen preview images of the new look, one of the things I was really dreading was the new End Credit Promotion (ECP) template that now encloses the end of the show rather than push it to one side. The only plus side I can see to the new end credits is that the typeface is clear, large and therefore easy to read. They are still displayed for a short amount of time, though they seem to be on for just a bit longer than the previous style. The other benefit is that we now get a full size production caption again. Despite the small benefit the new-look ECP gives, I still hate it. Actually, I hate the whole idea of ECPs, but that’s another matter.

One thing that I can’t help noticing is the appalling amount of mistakes that have stuck out of the presentation and continuity. One mistake I recall seeing a few times during the first couple of days was the transmission of trailers that featured the previous trailer style. Though the old trailers I saw were the “non generic” style in the sense that they didn’t feature an ITV1 end-board, they still boasted the grey ITV1 DOG and had no elements of the new style at all.

The problem that seems to be most prominent and is still occurring as I write, is that of announcers being cut-off before they can finish what they are saying and/or the first second or so of some programmes being missed off. Now I admit this is an easy mistake that has happened throughout the history of television, though it usually only happens once in a while. It becomes very annoying when it keeps happening all the time and is proving that by letting computers do almost all of the work things will not run perfectly.

Another mistake I witnessed was at the end of the episode of The Bill shown on 30 October. Basically the preview for the following night’s episode went out as normal albeit with a new “Next Time” caption. Then as the Generic soft-toned background came up for the end credits, the ECP template was overlaid too. The end credits remained in their full size on-screen. This was bad enough as the initial cock-up distracted you from reading the first few names on the credits. To add to this, there was a bright shard of light coming from the overlaid ECP that created more of a distraction from the actual credits. Then, the credits were re-sized into the right position on the ECP, but because both sources where still semi-transparent, the bright light coming from the ECP made the credits illegible until the fault was finally corrected.

I tried my level best to approach the new-look national service in a positive way but, as soon as we were a few seconds into that promo on the Monday morning, my disgust for this dreadful mess that had been created took over. Despite my liking for the new trailer style and the larger typeface for the credits, I would rather have it back the way it was before. I agree that the last few years of regional continuity have been a slow and painful death with the generic heart idents and the whole Carlton re-brand exercise, but, let’s face it, it was better than what we now have.

By the end of the first day of the new look, I was sick of the celebrity idents and by the time the first few months have passed by, they will be so boring that ITV1 will have to change them. They probably will, but all that will happen will be a minor change – perhaps the re-introduction of the URL or some other small tweak to the graphics.

The generic heart idents lasted around 4 years, the new celebrity idents just can’t be used that long. Well done ITV1, for you have dragged yourself down even further.

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Liverpool, Friday 19 July 2024