Tag Archives: ITV

Red card for ‘Play to the Whistle’

It’s understandable that ITV would want to recreate the success of Sky’s A League Of Their Own and the BBC’s long-running A Question Of Sport.

There is clearly a huge appetite for watching sports stars step outside their professional environment and into the world of entertainment.

Athletes often come across as sullen, dull and uncommunicative, so giving them a chance to lighten up in panel show formats can clearly make for good television.

“Contestants appeared disinterested, ignoring the live audience, on their phones between rounds… the interaction between presenter Holly Willoughby and the panellists felt awkward”

In this regard, Play To The Whistle’s acquisition of Chelsea and England midfield legend Frank Lampard as a resident team captain was certainly shrewd.

His pedigree ensures that plenty of football fans will be drawn in, and he has a celebrity pull that might get viewers who aren’t into sport interested, too.

But if ITV want to make the third series of Play to the Whistle a success, then Lampard will not only not be enough, but may actually prove to be a obstacle.

If my recent experience at Elstree studios is anything to go by, then perhaps ‘Saturday night snoozefest’ would be a little more apropos a category than ‘sports-based comedy panel show’.

Effort

Unless I missed something during my two brief toilet breaks, there didn’t appear to be much to laugh at during the show.

Contestants appeared disinterested, ignoring the live audience, on their phones between rounds and failing through large parts to provoke any real laughter. The interaction between presenter Holly Willoughby and the panellists felt a little awkward.

It was clear that golfer Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston and reality TV ‘star’ Scarlett Moffatt aren’t cut out for this line of work, and audience members around me seemed expectant of a little more effort from both guests and regular captains alike.

What’s more, the ratings tend to agree with them. The show debuted back in April 2015 with an audience of 2.79m, which within two weeks had dropped to 2.03m. The second series revealed the same trend, with 2.71m viewers tuning in for opener – a figure down by 700,00 by the end of the run.

It’s hard to avoid predicting a similar level of dwindling engagement for the third series unless better-calibre guests and a more structured format are adopted for the show.

Lifeless

Somebody needs to tell Bradley Walsh that few people care about his new album nor will want to buy it. Why it was thought he’d be a good Play To The Whistle team captain eludes me.

He’s clearly a versatile performer, but his antics were inappropriately brash, and one particular audience member objected to him referring to her as “love” during one of the earlier rounds.

“Romesh Ranganathan was a rare highlight who did manage to amuse during the show’s more conversational segments”

Nobody’s performance underwhelmed quite like Lampard’s, though. Acting as a perfect example of why footballers ought to let their feet do the talking, his lifeless showing may go some way towards explaining the trajectory of the show’s ratings.

He didn’t expand on questions put to him by the presenter and when the cameras weren’t on, spent most of his time texting and sipping a beer.

Even comedian Seann Walsh, the show’s mock pundit, failed to inject the proceedings with any real humour.

His skits after each round, designed to show him doing anything other than watching the show or monitoring the scores, felt a little like a boy trying to impress the girl he likes at school: forced and over the top.

Burden

I did, however, like how he introduced each contestant. Mocking Sky’s punditry and line-up presentation was a nice touch that gave the show a uniquely sporty feel.

That burden fell mainly onto the shoulders of his fellow funnyman Romesh Ranganathan, a rare highlight, who did manage to amuse during the show’s more conversational segments.

I was especially surprised at Rob Beckett’s lack of contribution. I’ve been impressed with his work in the past, but I don’t recall him saying anything funny this time around.

Combine all this with a string of technical faults, which eventually set the recording 40 minutes behind schedule, and the overall impression was one of sloppiness and disorganisation.

For me, this displayed a lack of thought and attention to detail; two things Play To The Whistle is in desperate need of.

Blow the full-time whistle, ITV.

John Hindhaugh and the art of sports commentating

John Hindhaugh has been commentating on sports for over two decades, working his way up from hospital radio to owning and running sportscar racing’s leading station: Radio Le Mans. But talking to millions of listeners every week is no easy ride.

Hindhaugh always loved radio, he always wanted to be on it. Like many, he grew up listening to live events and shows, and wanted to be apart of it somehow, whether it was through music, or sports.

“The audience will never forgive you for any technical issues”

“I got into it through the backdoor,” he told Elephant Sport. “There wasn’t a shining moment that brought me to it, but there was always something special about listening to sport on the radio, desired by people who care about it.

“I would sit up late into the early hours of the morning as a kid and listen to boxing commentary. It was a big deal listening to something from the other side of the world, live. I love the feeling of a big event.

“And when I started I always felt speaking to people and broadcasting came naturally to me more than most, I didn’t find it that difficult. It’s a way of me expressing myself, I enjoy the buzz and thrill of analysing something on the fly that is by nature unpredictable.

Well rounded

“My ambition was originally to be Noel Edmonds, I thought he was an excellent presenter. He did a lot of good features and was a good music presenter. In the end though, that didn’t happen, I didn’t become a music jock. The big break for me was going to the States to broadcast on motorsport, and that’s what I’ve stuck with.”

So, in 1979, Hindhaugh made a career move and started broadcasting on hospital radio in Sunderland. He was tasked with all sorts of jobs, getting involved in many different sports.

“I wanted to cover different things. You rocked up at various places, and built up a network of contacts.

“That meant I was doing cycling in Newcastle, I did basketball for the Newcastle Sporting Club and Eagles, I did ice hockey for the Newcastle Cobras and rugby commentary for the Newcastle Falcons. I had no idea what to expect sometimes, from week to week.

“It’s really hard, when you work in so many sports. I’d never played basketball, ice hockey, I didn’t have a grounding. But I got involved doing onsite stuff and eventually turned it into my full career.”

Excite

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Hindhaugh and Jeremy Shaw during an ESPN broadcast

Hindhaugh agrees that whatever it is, people think it’s easy, because people think that anyone can just talk about sports. But it’s hard to flow, be objective and excite people – especially when they are listening over radio and can’t see the action.

You have to be able to paint pictures, which can be extremely difficult; many of us take that for granted.

“What people don’t realise is that commentating for a team, as an example, means that not only do you have to be prepared and know everyone and everything about that one club, but you need to know what it’s like when a club you only see once a year comes to town.

“You have to know all the names and study their form. It’s so hard to research in any depth when you are working at small local events.

“But it meant you have to be rounded, as a presenter and commentator. If you think back to Barry Davies and David Coleman – they did everything – not just football: athletics, hockey, all sorts.

“You had to be versatile. Back when I started, there weren’t many of us, being a commentator then was a skill, and a specialist commentator was in some ways were closing off opportunities.

“Ironically, I started doing motorsport commentary because there were so few people doing it.

“Nowadays it’s broadened out, as at each ground for a Premiership game or an F1 race there’s two or three sets of commentators. When I was doing football there weren’t as many positions, there was only one broadcast a week.

When it all goes wrong

Aside from being knowledgeable, you also have to be prepared for the worst to happen. Broadcasts can and do go wrong, but that’s when commentators really earn their money.

“I think it’s the times when things don’t run smooth that you get more of an indication of how good a commentator is. The audience will never forgive you for any technical issues or issues with the event, it’s what you do to fill that dead air, that’s your job.

“If you stop feeling nervous before events, and don’t feel the pressure, then the magic is gone”

“Sometimes, you only have one camera filming an event, or you don’t have a full list of who is playing or riding, or driving, but you just have to make up for that. Often, fans have more information as it happens, and a better view, than you do.

“And sometimes you have to find things to say when you have nothing to talk about while an event is being delayed.

“You come home exhausted when those things happen, but you think ‘I did alright there’.”

In recent years, Hindhaugh has become the voice of endurance racing across the globe, on Radio Le Mans as well as for other platforms like IMSA Radio and ESPN.

Broadcasting from a football ground is one thing, but commentating on a 24-hour race, sometimes for the entire event, and sometimes without TV-cut pictures, is another all together.

Round the clock

“Doing what I do now, is extremely hard. It’s so tiring, and because you’re talking about sometimes over 100 cars, all with three drivers [in rotation], it becomes a blur trying to remember form from previous races. One weekend I’ll be working in America at Daytona, the next in Italy for a GT race at Monza.”

During a season, Hindhaugh may broadcast live from five 24-hour races in different countries, with completely different sets of cars. Each one is also set over the course of a whole week, with practice and qualifying sessions to work on too.

“You have to have extreme stamina, and you have to be interesting to broadcast for long periods.

“For every driver, you need more than one or two snippets of information. You also need to know different ways of describing the same things. If you keep calling Arnage corner at Le Mans ‘a tight right-hander’ for 24 hours, it’ll get boring.

“One thing I learnt is to write down loads of adjectives for the same thing and having them in front of me. So I’ll have the words: tight, narrow, 90-degree right, a squeeze. It’s little things like that you need to prepare, and prevent yourself from sounding the same every lap.

“Broadcasting is not easy, and that’s why those of us who are good at what we do, are few and far between.

“That’s why if you stop feeling nervous before events, and don’t feel the pressure, then the magic is gone and you should stop.”