Main Menu
Top of Page
  | Home   | Index   | Info   | This Week   | Poker   | News   | Email

Welcome to the News desk.

Morning Line team seek to put news back at heart of Channel 4 show 22/01/2011
Chris Cook
Racing's weekly magazine programme will have a new look and a retooled format from next Saturday

So you watched Channel 4's The Morning Line today. Did John Francome say: "You'd need to have your head firmly lodged up your backside not to be thinking about backing Petit Robin"? If not, then it seems he may be (even) more plainly spoken in rehearsal than when on air.

It is Thursday evening and, in Ascot's Panoramic Restaurant, the programme's regular presenters have been going through the motions for almost nine hours. Some of them are starting to play up a bit. When Tom Lee stands in for Kim Bailey, the trainer who will be next week's special guest, the questions put to him are decidedly more ribald than those the man himself is likely to face.

The point is not, sadly, to prepare material that will actually be delivered live but to road-test The Morning Line's new set and retooled format, which will make their debuts at Cheltenham next Saturday. It is a very big deal for all involved, not least because the show has never really had a set to speak of in its 22 years, being filmed in whatever hospitality box gave the best view over that day's host racecourse.

The look, we are told, will be "contemporary", while the dominant colours are "cyan and rust", the latter a dangerous choice for a programme sometimes accused of being set in its ways.

Regular viewers will not have to contend with anything so jarring as a change in the presenting line-up, which, if this rehearsal is any guide, will remain exactly the same. John McCririck, whose role in Channel 4's live coverage of the sport has been slashed in recent years, will remain a regular on the cyan sofa and has been given his own feature, Big Mac's Big Issue, a 90-second slot in which he will express forceful opinions on the week's main topic. The word "rant" comes up a lot when this is discussed.

Both McCririck and Nick Luck, the anchor presenter, express enthusiasm for the emphasis which will be placed on news at the start of each show. When the Morning Line began in 1989, it was required viewing for punters wanting to know, for example, which horses were being backed in early trading, but anyone with an internet connection can now monitor markets as closely as they please, and pick up any breaking stories while they are about it.

The relaunched programme will attempt to make itself vital once more by offering as much new information as the team can provide, as well as a round-up of that week's story-lines. Each programme will feature a live, in-depth interview with a jockey or trainer expected to have a major role in that day's action, a Skype connection allowing them to be shown live as well as heard.

Entertainment value will hopefully be provided by a raft of new features, headed by "Matt Dawson's day in the life", in which the former rugby international will seek fresh insights from a racing professional. The role of Dawson, by no means an expert on this sport, will be "debunking myths, explaining things and jargon-busting", according to Channel 4's racing consultant, Andrew Thompson.

"It's vital that we don't do anything that upsets that core audience, those people who've watched it, week in, week out, for years," Thompson says. "We value those viewers more than anyone and they're very knowledgeable.

"But equally we will just try and widen it a little bit because there are people who turn on who might have been slightly put off by, perhaps, some of the jargon, perhaps the occasional in-joke. So it's about welcoming everybody."

To that end, a new strand ("Mac and Tanya's guide to betting") will try to explain gambling for the uninitiated. No prior knowledge is assumed; in week one, we will learn the difference between odds-on and odds-against.

There will also be a major effort to get viewers involved, with email, Twitter and Facebook used to draw questions and comment from the audience, while individual punters will get a chance to explain their bets to camera.

If Thompson is right, the whole will amount to a "unique and enjoyable blend of wit and wisdom", though there is still room for a caveat. "We'll learn something from the first few weeks and that may lead to one or two changes," he adds.

Back on the set, Francome asserts that Master Minded would have won the King George. Spiky, form-based opinion, it seems, will still have a home on the all-new Morning Line.