Channel 4 Racing team celebrate industry awards

Having won the odd TV award myself in the past, I know how pleasing it is for your efforts to be recognised from within the broadcasting industry, writes Vernon Grant.

On-air director Denise Large won a Royal Television Society Craft and Design award for her work on the 2014 transmission of the Grand National from Aintree. It was well deserved.

I thought the Grand National meeting last April was the month the newer look Channel 4 Racing team came of age. Not just for the big race itself, but in the days running up to that event – the most watched horse race in the world.

Denise Large and the production team will have worked long and hard preparing that coverage. I know there are some reading this who think television is just thrown together. But that is not the case. And live television is as pressurised as broadcasting gets. She fully deserves her award for multi camera live direction and I for one congratulate her.

Since the change in production company took place two years ago, some viewers have grumbled about the alterations in the on screen presentation team.

I know from having produced both new and revised programming since 1988 (and worked in TV since 1980), that viewers get used to how a show looks and do not take readily to change.

But all programmes started somewhere and if you don’t seek to develop and ultimately improve shows, they will eventually die on their feet.

Executive producer Carl Hicks has sought to experiment and innovate. And he’s been right to do so. Some viewers will like the changes, others will not. It has ever been thus. Few things in life cause more discussion and argument in modern day life than television.

I have never seen more than five minutes of the supposedly most popular and certainly most talked about reality shows that hog the airwaves.

I don’t turn on the TV to have my intelligence insulted, to watch non-entities make idiots of themselves for the pleasure of idiots watching from the comfort of their sofas and I don’t turn on the TV to be sworn at in my own home. But some people clearly do. Each to their own.

It is well documented that I myself had selective criticisms during the first year of the new look Channel 4 Racing.

They were not always the dislikes aired daily by other viewers via social media. But I also wrote that nobody should judge the programming overall until it had settled down and been on air for at least two years.

That time has arrived.

For me, Channel 4 Racing has matured. It has succeeded in offering a more journalistic feel to on air discussions about the many controversial issues that surround the sport.

As for the live coverage of racing, that is better than ever before.

The Morning Line has been at its best when visiting stables, live on air, and has definitely improved when it comes to the choice of special guests who offer their input from the mobile studio.

There was a period of time when The Morning Line ceased to provide my Saturday morning alarm call. That is no longer the case. I now always switch on to see who the guests are and, more often than not, stay with the show.

Of course, as is the case when it comes to punting, the quality of the racing on offer that day also has a baring on how interested I am in watching that show and the racing itself.

But Channel 4 Racing can only cover the racing on offer. The fact that there are too many low quality meetings is not the fault of the broadcaster, but of those who run the sport.

Nick Luck also won an award this week. Not for the first time he was named as Broadcaster of the Year by the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association. Again, another award well deserved.

I have produced programmes fronted by some of the very best presenters to ever broadcast on British television and I consider myself fortunate (most of the time) to have spoken into the earpiece of many of the biggest on screen names to present live TV.

The crucial element for any presenter is that they get better. Too often presenters are judged by viewers and bosses on one programme, or one series. It’s a nonsense. It doesn’t matter what the job is, people should only judge someone after they’ve had a fair crack at that job.

I have produced auditions with some of the most famous current presenters of sports programming. One lady, very popular with male viewers, fell apart at her auditions: “I can’t do this, I can’t f*****g do this… I’m telling you, I’m no good at it.”

But she was. In the end. She is now very good at it. And she is not the only presenter I see on air now looking very accomplished when, in their early days, they appeared anything but.

Nick Luck has just got better and better. From the comfort of my armchair, I have witnessed him grow in confidence.

He is now a very accomplished front man and one who can deal with technical cock ups or late changes to the running order without getting flustered.

I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea. So often labelled “too posh to present”, (irrelevant even if it were true, which it’s not) or too stiff (once upon a time, perhaps, but no longer the case).

Nick Luck is not lucky. It’s all in the preparation. Doing your homework. And, in Nick’s case, a little bit of chain smoking before you go on air always helps!

And it’s all about teamwork. I have worked on programmes that have been a success chiefly because every member of the team was pulling in the same direction. It’s no different from a football team or a working stables. Get one or two bad apples in the team and everything falls apart.

Nick Luck and Denise Large know that they owe their awards in no small measure to those they work with. The so often unheralded camera crews.

They are both brilliant and professional. And to others the viewers do not see. The producer, assistants, floor manager, the graphics team and all those who do their bit to ensure the programme not only gets on the air; but delivers the viewer some great racing action and talk.

Channel 4 Racing does that. I understand there may well be further changes to come in 2015. But right now the one thing that cannot be denied is that Channel 4 committed itself to televising racing. A sport the BBC gave up on.

Viewing figures go up and down. That’s the case for all television programmes. The real test of a broadcaster is whether or not it sticks with the show when it’s under fire from some critics and struggling to attract viewers and advertisers.

When, for reasons lost on me, The Guardian newspaper seemed intent on putting the boot in; Channel 4 backed the hard working team that bring racing to us via free to air, terrestrial television.

As someone who defiantly refuses to pay for any subscription television service, I for one hope that remains the case for a long time to come.

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Read more of Vernon’s horse racing and football columns via his VG Tips website

Follow Vern on Twitter: @lecrin

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