What's on British TV NYE

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ISSUE 1677 Tuesday 28 December 1999

The Samaritans' survival guide is our only hope in the face of TV overkill, says Carole Cadwalladr

[The Samaritans operate, among othre things, a crisis line.]

THE Samaritans announced this week that they are expecting a record 18,000 calls on New Year's Eve. A disturbing figure until you take a quick flip through the Radio Times.

What would you rather do on the cusp of the next Millennium? Watch four hours of "karaoke musical mayhem" on Channel 5? Sit through a festive double episode of The Bill? Or call that number and talk to someone soothing?

Doing fantasy television programming with the schedules is a bit like playing the who-would-you-least-like-to-sleep-with game. Except that instead of being faced with a play-off between Jeffrey Archer and Stephen Norris, it comes down to a choice between watching Jeremy Clarkson "commenting on the UK's last sunset of the Millennium" or Party of a Lifetime with Ainsley Harriott.

The Samaritans are taking a pragmatic approach. "Don't blame yourself for not feeling good," says their Millennium Survival Guide, "you're not alone," which is true. Blame the BBC instead, and take comfort in the fact that the 120 million other people, supposedly watching worldwide, are likely to be experiencing similar emotions.

In fairness, BBC1 is at least making an effort. Its Millennium marathon, 2000 Today, is bringing together broadcasts from 60 different countries at a cost of #12 million and it should make interesting viewing. How will Gaby Roslin's make-up hold up over 28 hours? Will the live feed from Moscow really be Y2K compliant? And how did John Simpson wangle the South Pacific assignment? Besides, few other channels would have the depth of vision to combine the diverse talents of Nelson Mandela, Rolf Harris and Sir Cliff Richard in a single broadcast.

After a sweep around the world reporting on parties in Venezuela and Finland, Leipzig and Muckle Fugga, with only a quick breather for EastEnders at 8pm, the cameras will pan to the Dome where the Queen is due to arrive shortly after 11pm.

There follows a quick whizz around another 14 countries, starting in Paris and culminating with a papal blessing in Rome before Big Ben strikes 12. This is the moment for "scenes of jubilation from around the UK", the 200ft wall of fire to sweep down the Thames, and then it's back to Greenwich, which is described by the Radio Times (although presumably not by Stephen Hawking - also in the BBC studio) as "the home of time itself". Twenty new lottery winners will be announced, and then it's the moment for the babies to be wheeled on. BBC camera crews have been stationed in maternity wards around the country ready to capture "the first Millennium babies entering the world" although it is not yet clear whether or not this will be shown live.

Over 28 hours, it is likely that there may be some filler items and TV Quick sounds a note of cautious scepticism. "The Dagenham Girl Pipers, class of 1938, get together for a tearful reunion," it says, "the climax of a line-up which also includes a string quartet playing while suspended on a crane".

The really scary thing is that according to Alan Yentob, the BBC's Director of Television, the 2000 Today programme isn't just a programme. It is "a time capsule of today's civilisation".

ITV, on the other hand, just doesn't seem to be playing the game. The last great test of television live-time programming (Diana's funeral) saw the networks facing up four-square to each other with the brothers Dimbleby sweating it out against each other in their respective studios.

This time around, David will be in the Dome commentating for the BBC, but Jonathan is nowhere to be seen and ITV has contented itself with rolling out Trevor McDonald for a mere two hours from 10.55pm and then sticking in an old Woody Allen tape (Annie Hall 1.05am). "If the future seems bleak and you've lost interest in everything," says the Samaritan's Millennium guide, "these are signs that's something wrong." It clearly ought to be handed over to somebody at BBC2. The channel's first programme of the third Millennium is a documentary about Norman Cook. In the circumstances, Channel Four's decision to show "the historic 100th episode of Eurotrash" at 10.10pm featuring a German pubic hairdresser and Sweden's naked version of Blind Date, seems almost life-affirming.

Plus if you're quick on the remote controls, you can flip over to Channel 5 at 1.05am for a chance to see Emmanuelle and the famous scene in which the French ambassador's wife learns to smoke a cigarette with her other end, and still catch the bit with the butter in Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1.50am FilmFour).

"Look beyond Millennium night," concludes the Samaritan guide. This is good advice especially if you remind yourself that at least you are not the poor sap at Sky TV who paid #12 million to be the Dome's official broadcast sponsor. Unless you are the poor sap. In which case you may as well go back to playing with the electric sockets.

24 hour banking services, by both internet and telephone, will continue through New Year's Eve and the New Year.

Samaritans, 24-hour cover: 0345 90 90 90.

At least one pharmacist is due to be open in each health authority, listed on www.bma.org.uk

NHS Direct 0845 4647: 24-hour line giving confidential advice and support from a nurse or adviser. Only available to two thirds of the population in England.

Health Information Service is also available on 0800 665544 (England and Wales) and 0800 224488 (Scotland).

Accident and Emergency units will be open as usual.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), December 28, 1999


Just to make the evening as bad as can be,

wait for it,

wait for it,


What on earth is England coming to?????

This is a BAD omen :o)

-- Andy (2000EOD@prodigy.net), December 28, 1999.

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