The Tour on the Telly. Will Imlach, Boulting and Millar nail it again?
All pictures with kind permission of Vsquared TV
With the Tour de France finally upon us, it’s appropriate to reflect on that most crucial element of a 3 week Grand Tour; the Highlights show on the telly. It’s one of life’s genuine pleasures. They are a great way to catch up and condense what has been a tough 5 or 6 hours racing into a watchable block of an hour. Let’s be honest, in a 5 hour stage race, there will likely be chunks where not a lot happens, so in a busy life, when sometimes the hour is all you really have, the highlights show is the way to do it. So I confess to being somewhat demanding when it comes to this particular genre.
Although not a 3 week Grand Tour, the Criterium du Dauphine (9th June – 16th June), considered by many to be the tasty entree to the TdF’s main course, reunited us all with the team that have, for me at least, become the gold standard of this particular genre. I refer, of course, to ITV’s Cycling ‘Highlights Show” – an ‘A’ Team of programme producer Vsquared TV and presenting team of Gary Imlach, Ned Boulting, David Millar, Daniel Friebe and Matt Rendell.
An established format
Their format has become well established now. Imlach’s gently sardonic (but never cynical) humour is brilliantly pitched. It’s slick and clearly rehearsed but never comes across as such. The top of the programme is fast reportage; a quick recap on the previous day’s events, a graphic explaining the stage for the current day then it’s straight into interviews with the cyclists or their team principals. Usually, there’s a good half dozen of these and in this regard alone, it does rather trump the Eurosport take on the Highlights show from the Giro, where they hardly seemed to speak to any cyclists at all. Then it’s back to Gary for a quick link to the commentary before handing straight over to Boulting and Millar.
I love these two. They have that rare ability to convey nail biting drama when it is exciting yet prattle on, ever interestingly, when it’s not. Think Henry Blofeld expounding on the delights of buses and cranes and pigeons on Test Match Special and you’ll get the drift. They cut to shots of chateau and talk about them as well as tell you interesting facts about the course. But never once do you feel you have missed a single second of the stage that was in any way vital to the eventual outcome of it.
And then there are the on-screen graphics. They are clear and tell me precisely what is going on. Even better, the editing is superb so when we cut to a shot of a particular group of riders, they tell you which group of riders it is and either Boulting or Millar then explains what’s going on with this particular group. Marvellous. This is another area where ITV / Vsquared leave the Eurosport boys somewhat floundering. The on screen graphics in the Giro d’Italia highlights show failed, pretty much all of the time, to explain precisely what was going on at any given moment so when there was a cut to various shots of the breakaway group, the chasing group, the Maglia Rosa group or whatever, the viewer was left having to work it out for themselves. Or at least that’s how it felt.
And at the end of each day’s stage there always seems time for interviews with a handful of riders (often by the extraordinary Daniel Friebe who can speak any language you like whilst sounding like an actual native of that country, not that I’m jealous) before cutting to a shot of the podium celebrations and then handing back to the studio.
Here, Imlach and Millar conduct a short interview together explaining the key take out points of the day. Note – there’s no big couch of 3 presenters all needing to justify their fee as there appeared to be during the Giro coverage. Millar is superlative. His chilled and laid back approach is perfect and having watched him so many times now, his ability to get the analysis spot on is getting better and better. Which is impressive since it started off being pretty good in the first place. Then there’s time for a quick recap of the GC table, a fancy graphic explaining the next day’s stage and before you know it, Gary is bidding you good night with some pithy au revoir.
It’s not the hour, it’s what you do with it
It’s the same hour as the Giro coverage and yet, it feels as if far more has been packed into that same hour. Why is that? Is ITV’s budget bigger? I doubt it although even if it is, as Ferrari is finding out in F1 this year, it’s how you spend it and gel the team that matters. Personally, I think it’s because of three things; First, ITV have got the format absolutely sorted; Second, their presenters are at the top of their game (and in many respects getting better) and third, the editing is ‘off the chart’ good.
It’s the last one that’s really hard to explain. I know what a beautiful painting looks like compared to a naff one, just don’t ask me to explain how the artist did it. I only know the end product is that much better when I see it. Equally, don’t ask me to explain how Vsquared get it so right, they just do. They are clearly very talented people and it shows.
And the best news, there are two Grand Tours this year to be delivered by the same team. Splendid. The same team are now in charge of delivering the highlights show for the Tour de France and La Vuelta Espana so I can relax. Incidentally, before anyone screams at me, I fully accept there may well be other highlights packages available for both those races but the reality is that I don’t know because I don’t really care. My “Series Link” will be set for ITV4 and Gary & the gang.
Let the racing (and the highlights!) begin.