Meanwhile, back on planet earth, Channel 4 racing is set to become the first terrestrial broadcaster to transmit every race from the five day Royal Ascot meeting. Credit to Jamie Aitchison, Head of Sport at C4, and to independent production company, IMG.
I want racing to be on free to air television for the rest of my life.
And for that to happen we must back C4. Even if we don’t agree with all the production decisions. When it comes to TV programmes, you’ll rarely get the same verdict from any two viewers.
Some people actually miss John McCririck. I don’t.
While I know where he is coming from on the ageism in the workplace front, that is not exclusive to television. And ageism is not the reason ‘Big Mac’ was removed from Channel 4 racing.
More likely his stumbling and bumbling over the names of racehorses was a factor. Likewise his increasing inability to deal with the pressures and time constraints of live television.
Few experienced presenters are still able to deliver the goods on screen into their seventies. One I worked with was superb at taking live direction in his earpiece, despite his advancing years. But he is now in an unmarked grave with his reputation in tatters due to criminal behaviour hidden from myself and countless others for many decades.
Meanwhile, the BBC keep Bruce Forsyth on despite his increasingly embarrassing delivery. He is, after all, a national TV institution and I can imagine that no “suit or skirt” at the BBC is in a rush to be the person to tap him on the shoulder and tell him that the “good game” is over.
People working in TV in front and behind the screens can be the victims of ageism. And in many other jobs.
But for McCririck to accuse Channel 4 bosses of sacking he and others because they were over 50 is, at best, spurious.
They hired Graham Cunningham whose on screen jokes tell you he is no young, alternative comedian. I am led to believe Graham is over 50.
Jim McGrath is definitely over 50, and he was not shown the door by C4. He was kept on because of his knowledge of racing, his form study experience, his encyclopedic knowledge of pedigrees and because – if called upon to do so – he is a very capable presenter of live racing or ‘The Morning Line’ programme. After all, he presented to camera long before his appearances on Channel 4 racing.
The point is that those the bosses thought capable of improving the coverage were hired or kept on. We can all disagree about which presenters we like and do not like.
I have reviewed the new look Channel 4 racing coverage twice this year. and I will continue to do so from time to time. I will not be gushing unless the coverage deserves such praise. I will be critical if I believe elements of the coverage warrant it.
There have been mistakes. Believe me, in live television, there always will be.
But I believe the actual racing coverage of the big meetings has been superior on Channel 4 to anything the BBC delivered.
It is claimed ‘The Morning Line’ show is shipping viewers and that does not altogether surprise me.
For years I used the programme as a wake up call each Saturday at 8am. Now, in a normal week of racing, I can take it or leave it. ‘The Morning Line’ is no longer an appointment to view for me. And that should be a concern to Channel 4. If a programme is losing long serving viewers such as this one, then something must be wrong. Putting your finger on what that is can be difficult.
Viewers look back with rose tinted spectacles. We are all guilty of that. Myself included. We all recall the best episodes of ‘The Morning Line.’ The banter and the fun. But there were many dull episodes of the old version of the show.
But there is clearly work to do to win back those lost viewers.
My chief concern is that coverage of another much loved sport is not lost to what I still call ‘normal TV.’
Viewers and programme makers need to listen to each other to make sure that day does not arrive.Let’s be honest, if we didn’t have terrestrial coverage of the sport we loved, we’d miss it. Remember, this is not just about those of you who can afford to throw money at satellite subscriptions. Many people born around the same time as McCririck love to watch racing on their telly. It can be the highlight of their week.
Free to air TV is not just for those of us born before the days when people paid to watch sport on television. It should be available to all.
As for the career of John McCririck, and wearing my TV Producer hat, I was only surprised he was kept on long after his best before date. Way too many minutes of the old Morning Line show were wasted with his ludicrous comments, irrelevant outpourings and his inability to pronounce the names of horses.
If you know your stuff you don’t need to flaunt yourself on game shows or show yourself up on so called reality television.
You turn up. You do your homework. You take instruction from your producer and director. You communicate through that lens in such a manner that people want to hear what you have to say and can learn from what you know.
You don’t court attention for the sake of it. You do your job.
All I ever learned from John McCririck is that he hated a giant of broadcasting, David Coleman. Indeed Mac once told me that “the problem with Coleman, other than his ego, was that he thought he should be on air forever.”
Ironic really. That is the problem faced by John McCririck. Instead of thanking his lucky stars that a broadcaster has been prepared to pay him very well to be on TV for decades, he is making himself look like a fool – indeed a silly old fool – with this ludicrous unfair dismissal case against Channel 4. He is hoping for one last pay day. I hope he does not succeed.
Imagine how insufferable he’ll be if he is victorious in this ‘no win, no fee’ case. And would his winning lead to broadcasters calling all talented 50 something producers with offers of work, or hiring more pensioners to present live television? No, of course it wouldn’t.
I have been lucky enough to work with some giants of sports journalism and broadcasting. But even I can learn from others about the sport I love.
And here is a twenty minute interview with one of the Channel 4 racing team. Jim McGrath was able to enlighten me on certain racing related issues.
And that is what I want from on screen talent. Foe them to educate, entertain and inform.
John McCririck may have done that once upon a time. But no longer.