Poor Tom Newton Dunn, the former tabloid hack whose job it was to launch Rupert Murdoch’s new channel, TalkTV, at 7pm last night. Newton Dunn, whose middle name according to Wikipedia is Zoltan, surely loves a big exclusive; the greater part of his career so far, after all, has been spent at the Sun. But on Monday, big exclusives came there none. Newton Dunn’s nightly show is called The News Desk, which is a bit bewildering when you consider the stats, time-wise. The war in Ukraine: two seconds. Fergie’s tearful former PA Nicola Palmer: about two hours. The French presidential election: nod and you’ll miss it. The new Downton Abbey film: listen up while the Sun on Sunday’s assistant showbusiness editor, Hannah Hope, analyses every single non-nuance of its non-plot (“It’s jolly Brits abroad,” she finally said, which though probably a fair summary, makes me feel like I’ll be safe in my own job for a while yet).
Later on, bored with all this “news”, Newton Dunn convened a “panel” to discuss Google’s alleged plans to encourage “woke” language online (TalkTV, like its dreadful rival, GB News, is absolutely mad for insta-airtime-filling panels, and sprinkles them everywhere like Shake ‘n’ Vac). This one comprised Anas Sarwar, the little known leader of Scottish Labour, James Slack, the Sun’s deputy editor, and TalkTV’s political editor, Kate McCann.
As a trained reporter myself, I did feel that Newton Dunn was sleepwalking through this section of his show. Here was his exclusive right in front of him, and yet the man just sat tight, hoping to provoke by throwing around such outrageous words as “housewife” and “landlord”. Has he forgotten that Slack’s leaving do, when he departed No 10 as Boris Johnson’s director of communications, is the Downing Street party to which a suitcase full of booze is said to have been dragged? As one of my old news editors, fondly known to me as Expletive Deleted, might have put it: “What the ****, Tom? You ******* lazy, useless ****. Now go and get me a ******* coffee, no milk, three sugars.”
But we must move on. The major event of the night, sandwiched between this tedious drivel and a discussion show presented by Sharon Osborne and Jeremy Kyle (the George and Mildred of TalkTV) was, of course, Piers Morgan’s much trailed Uncensored, featuring his “big, exclusive” interview with Donald Trump. I guess we knew what was coming; after all, Morgan had talked about it enough before we got to see it. And I’m aware that I’m exactly the kind of person Morgan wants to drive half way round the bend. Though too old to be a snowflake, I have it in writing — thanks to Morgan’s tendency to Google himself at 4am, and thence to fire off wounded missives — that he regards me as a “lentil muncher”. But I really can’t pretend the whole thing didn’t stink to high heaven just to annoy him, can I?
Boy, it was mind-numbing. Trump, whose face looked like a gently thawing frozen chicken korma, went on and on about his red button — apparently it’s bigger than Kim Jong-un’s, which isn’t what I’ve heard, but never mind — while Morgan, longing both to keep in with the president and (for the purposes of telly) to fall out with him, did his best David Brent impersonation throughout. “If you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk,” he said at one point, his face luncheon-meat red with the strain of verbalising such deep thinking. Then again, perhaps he was just worrying about how, in the coming weeks, he will keep walking the walk himself. Because who, honestly, will want to appear on his show now?
Will people watch TalkTV? It’s hard to imagine that they will, though I suppose the station may pick up half a dozen viewers from GB News who want to flirt with watching output that is infinitesimally better produced, and infinitesimally less right-wing. There may, somewhere, even be some renegade viewer who really believes that the “straight talking starts here”; who actually falls for the line that Morgan’s show is the only institution in Britain that is prepared to say “get stuffed to the fun police” (whoever they are, and whatever their truncheons may look like).
I must admit that it’s quite fun to think of Murdoch and his henchwoman Rebekah Brooks panicking mildly at how much it has cost only to get even this far, and to imagine all those senior hacks at the Sun and the Times who are henceforth always going to be too busy to take calls from the station’s producers (“erm, sorry I’m in Kentish Town… er, I mean Kyiv for the foreseeable, and with no bloody internet, either”); also, of the TV critics trying desperately to find positive things to say about its output. Some are asking whether GB News will survive the launch of TalkTV, but the more interesting question is surely what will its existence mean, if anything, for Times Radio? Will Times Radio and TalkTV eventually have to fight it out to the death? Perhaps someone could convene a panel to debate this.
This article appears in the 27 Apr 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Sturgeon's Nuclear Dilemma