“Those are the headlines. Happy now?”
The newsroom had provided the setting for another successful British comedy, Channel 4’s Drop the Dead Donkey (1990-98), though this was more of a topical sitcom, going behind the scenes of a TV news broadcast, whereas The Day Today kept its unwavering eye on the bulletins themselves and their methods of presentation. Running for just six episodes on BBC2 from January 19th to February 23rd 1994, it skewered the contemporary news format so effectively, that even twenty years on, news channels look little different to the demented graphics and formulaic journalese deployed by the comedy to such devastating effect.
The ‘news’ presented in The Day Today is an off-kilter yet recognizable version of the news seen on the BBC, CNN, Bloomberg or even Fox, where events are the product of a system which has completely run away with itself and is now somehow in control, if not of events, but of which events are transmitted and why, without regard to relevance to the viewer. If it is important, it is news; it is on The Day Today, it is news and therefore important. The medium’s coverage takes precedent over the event. Therefore, if a presenter provokes the ambassadors of Australia and Hong Kong into declaring war upon each other’s nations, the program immediately swings into a ‘red alert’ war setting, as if it were a crucial part of the conflict; we have reporters at the scene of the battle, and a report from our special war correspondent, but first here’s the evening’s soccer results.
As with modern news shows, vox pops with members of the public serve to look important while actually just filling time with uninformed opinion; in The Day Today, unknowing Brits are asked to pontificate on the rise of controversial music genres ‘Belgian House’ and ‘alkaline tent,’ or which letter of the alphabet best summarizes the concept of justice, even reading prepared handouts to camera giving their ‘opinion,’ on various issues.
The Day Today started life as On the Hour, a BBC Radio 4 production running from 1991 to
This cultivated belligerence extends to Morris’ fellow presenters, especially financial correspondent Collaterlie Sisters (Doon Mackichan), a semi-robotic woman who spouts unintelligible quasi-management speak about the stock market and foreign currencies, and hapless business reporter Peter O’Hanra-hanrahan (Patrick Marber) who attempts to nervously bluff his way though reports having failed to interview his intended subject or even remotely understand the topic on which his report depends.
“Fact times importance equals news.”
Of particular interest to American viewers is “CBN Reporter, Barbara Wintergreen” (Front), a pouting, vivacious journalist who reports from the States, usually on the various executions of serial killer Chapman Baxter (Marber). One week finds the Elvis-loving Baxter seated not on an electric chair, but an electric lavatory, gorging on tablets and cheeseburgers until he reaches Presley’s death-weight, triggering the lethal charge; another time, Baxter's last wish is to marry fellow convict and arsonist Charlene Gray, with the wedding ceremony performed on a special electric chair made for two. On placing the ring on Gray’s finger, Baxter completes the electric current, executing them both. Wintergreen, almost teetering under make-up and blonde bouffant, ends each punning report with a smoldering look at the camera, with Baxter screaming as he smolders in the chair. These reports also demonstrates the technical brilliance and attention to detail of the show's real-life BBC production team; to British TV viewers, American shows taped on video appear hazy and reddish in hue, due to the difficulties in converting low-resolution broadcasts to higher-resolution British TV broadcasts, and The Day Today replicates this effect superbly well.
“Since that report, there’s been a meeting, and it’s all been sorted out.”
Targets were not limited just to TV news, but its spilling and leaching into other genres, such as soaps (in the form of The Bureau, a drama filming 1000 episodes a week despite being set in a small bureau-de-change), reality show documentaries, emergency service shows, and nostalgia slots, where elderly women reminisce on the days of paper door locks and suitors first presented a lion to their intended’s mother for approval.
With its exquisite use (or perhaps abuse) of language and visuals, The Day Today succeeded in