The early moments of London Live were among the most innovative it has so far broadcast.
For the fifteen seconds before the first programme an Oxford Circus pedestrians’ countdown clock filled the screen. It was clever, subtle, and very London.
And then the biggest of the new wave of local television stations was on the air - and it was awful.
It’s hard to explain how ill-prepared, how shockingly shoddy, the first half-hour of London Live was. I’d been sticking up for it beforehand, insisting that -- even if the rest of the output was cheap, that first programme would be slick, well-resourced and impressive.
Surely it had to be -- everyone would be watching….
For half-an-hour a presenter wandered in circles on the South Bank (which she would at one stage inexplicably refer to as her “favourite hangspace”). She appeared to have few notes, little in the way of a script and almost no direction or support.
Occasionally she handed over to another presenter, at a Leicester Square movie premiere. Here, like Alan Partridge awaiting Roger Moore’s arrival, we were repeatedly told they would soon be talking to Russell Crowe. Eventually, a pre-recorded interview was played out, but by now the tone was set.
London Live remains largely chaotic, with no clear sense of what it’s meant to be. Is it doing local news? Or just features? Does it aim to provide vital information for a busy city? Or just gather a few talking heads to pointlessly fill another empty hour?
Most of the time, it resembles a low-rent version of Dave. Re-runs of dramas and comedies, anything with a vague link to London. Some, like Spaced, Peep Show and The Shadow Line, are very good. But we’ve seen them many times before.
Within a few days, like most of the 8-million or so people who can receive London Live, I’d forgotten it was even there.
Now, after just four months, it’s asking regulators to allow it to ditch most of its local content, and rely even more on those re-runs.
London Live isn’t so much a coherent TV channel as a collection of marketing phrases, half-considered concepts and slick branding, thrown at a wall in the hope something might emerge.
Many with a vested interest in the status quo shout loudly there is no need for local TV -- the audience isn’t interested, the advertising isn’t there.
Often this comes from organisations who have proudly demonstrated their commitment to local broadcasting -- turning radio stations into Hearts or Capitals, or ditching the few remaining regional features from the ITV schedule.
Yet go online and you’ll see a vibrant local market. Websites, facebook pages and twitter accounts link people with common interests -- many areas of London now get better information from such sites than the broadcasters who claim they can’t make local work.
And while London Live’s predictable slate of re-runs fails to make any impact, in places like Glasgow, Nottingham and even Grimsby other stations are making inroads -- albeit slowly -- by remaining resolutely local.
A small amount of local content, relevant to your audience, is all you need at this stage. Your first priority is to get them watching at all, just for a few minutes -- so running the same reports four or five times a night doesn’t matter while you’re finding your feet.
What matters is finding something unique, doing something no-one else does. Being seen in your patch and building a reputation.
London Live’s few original, interesting programmes are disappearing, lost in an endless parade of re-run shows from 20 years ago.
Its misfire wouldn’t matter so much if it were the only casualty. But if it fails, it threatens the whole sector. Who would invest in local TV in Liverpool, Bristol or Newcastle if it couldn’t work in London?
It is ridiculous that a city the size of London can’t sustain a TV channel, that a couple of half-hour magazine programmes are deemed sufficient for a global capital.
London Live really isn’t the kind of local TV the city deserves -- hopefully a relaunched version, or its replacement, will finally deliver something worth watching.