When watching TV programs, one hardly notices how each and every aspect of the programme was put together to appeal to a certain type of audience. The show might thrill the audience, provide them with useful information, and excite them beyond their wildest imaginations. Perhaps some in the audience will dislike the show, feel bored from the useless gibberish it is churning out each and every second or simply horrify them that such nonsense can be put on television.
Regardless of the reactions of some, the show was tailored to somebody’s taste. If it wasn’t him or her, then it is someone else. ITV’s London Tonight is no exception. Shown every weekday at 6pm on ITV1, London Tonight covers all major talking points and news in the capital. The show’s producers and directors have put together a show to appeal to the workers in the capital. They cover news quickly and efficiently, laying down the main facts without too much detail. They can cover stories with depth though, and sometimes provide live links to reporters that are on-location in important stories.
The ident sequence from London Tonight is certainly one of the more interesting ones among all the news programs out there. The words “London Tonight” zooms left and right on the top and bottom thirds of the screen in white text whilst the screen is shaded a dark blue. In the middle third, images of London flashes on and off. Most of those images are what’s usually related to London – pigeons, the tube, huge red double-deckers and busy workers rushing to work just to name a few.
Dynamic and attention grabbing music fills the audience’s ears as the show ploughs through the London images. Suddenly the sequence is broken up and the music’s volume lowers. A preview of one of the programme’s main stories comes on and the presenter’s voice fills the void left by the music. Images concerning the story taken earlier in the day takes up the screen and the presenter provides us brief details. The ident sequence then returns with yet more dynamic music and London images. Suddenly it all ends with the music coming into a fast dramatic finish and the camera focuses on the studio before zooming in on the second presenter (that didn’t do the briefing in the ident sequence). Just before it ends though, a map of Britain is shown on screen with circles zooming into the general location of London. This signifies they will be covering news from both inner London and outer London.
Even at this early time, the audience can identify two of the main characteristics in the show’s target audience. They live in inner or outer London and they are workers in inner or outer London that have just come home and wish to see a fast paced round up of the day’s news. They might have come to these two conclusions because of firstly the map, and the title of the show itself. Secondly because of the time the programme is aired and shown to the public.
Moving down the list, we come to the choice of presenters and set. The presenters are a man and a woman, aged 50-odd and late-20s respectively. This gives them a balanced image consisting of the wise mind of the older man and the up-to-date mind of his younger counterpart. The set has a window overlooking London. This once again re-enforces the fact that they are covering news from London. The presenters are seated at behind a desk, as any professional news presenter would do, and have pages of notes in front of them. They wear formal clothes and look educated, with unlimited knowledge behind those minds. In their ears they wear ear pieces for additional instructions, beyond those already given to them at the start of the programme.
This information tells the audience many things. Firstly, they are trying to appeal to both the younger and older generations in the capital. The presenters are fairly representative of the age their target audience would be. The formal look and notes make them seem prepared and professional. This gives them a professional image and makes sure that the audience trusts and understand what they’re saying, and will value their opinions. The ear piece tries to bring across the image that fresh information is being fed into the presenter’s ears all the time and makes the news value shoot up.
Moving on, we come to the set. It overlooks London, as stated before, and has a very “blue” look to it. This brings to mind the national flag and perhaps nationalistic viewpoints. Blue is also the colour of choice, it seems, for the ITV channel and promotes the channel further in an indirect way. The set has two sections to it with a desk and 2 presenters sat behind it in the main section. The second section is to the left and has a couch in it with another (usually male) presenter that will deliver the sports headlines later in the show.
The set has a very futuristic look to it, something the audience will expect to see in a Star Trek scene perhaps. This brings across the message that even though they are supposedly wise and all-knowing, they are still up to date with the latest technology and keeping up with the younger generation of this day.
This leads us onto the choice of story and the prioritisation of each story. The main story of this episode is the re-election of the Conservative Party leader after Iain Duncan Smith came under fire. This is currently a major national story, but since all political stories usually take place in the capital, it also had a “closeness to home” news value.
The story was of such importance that they even provided a live link to a reporter at Westminster a few minutes before the vote’s results were revealed. It provided in-depth analysis of the public’s opinion and possible future leaders. They come to the conclusion that the person most likely to takeover is Michael Howard with David Davies as his deputy. They constantly went back to the live link for an update of events and ask more questions about the consequences of this move by the party and speculate on what the party’s 165 MPs will eventually decide on. The show provides in-depth details to this main story, even going back to how it all started (which was when two backbenchers proposed a vote after finally becoming fed up of Iain Duncan Smith’s polices, which was supposedly leading the right-wing party).
The next story on the list was the postal strike. Once again this was a national talking point but because it sparked off in London, it has been shown on London Tonight. They go into details of the strike such as what they want and facts like how the Post office is Europe’s biggest sorting organisation. The consequences of the strike was outlined and opinions from random members of public on the streets of London wrapped up the general mood of the story. They showed a map showing how the postal strike spread over London and made it a growing national problem. The story finished with a few questions being submitted to a Postwatch representative and thus concluding the story.
The next few items were much smaller in comparison and was not given as much time on air as the first two stories. This includes a report on a notorious car thief who in order to steal a Mercedes, ran over an old salesman. Other stories include a court ruling allowing a life support machine to be turned off, further reports on Crossrail (a project proposed by the government to solve the railway problems plaguing the UK once and for all) and victims to an eviction plan being stopped thanks to London Tonight. This is followed by a South London trial of three people accused of money laundering and cannabis dealing.
The show is then broken up by a brief interlude which displays what’s coming up later in the show. Surprisingly, adverts did not come on and it skipped straight to the next story.
The next story featured a Minister trying to reduce the amount of rubbish in the capital. This represents yet another “closeness to home” story and that directly affects the population of London.
The show, as the audience can see, features stories that take place in, or at least related to, London. Although already known from the title of the show, it once again reaffirms my beliefs on the target audience being Londoners.
A couple of news items later (one of them being a road block taking place due to the theft of four Aston Martins and a new GP yoga prescription) and the audience will see a pattern forming in the news items.
The news values of the story are not only based on how interesting they are or how “close-to-home” they are, but also on how the mood of the story is. The audience will realise how the depressing stories, e.g. the car thefts, always come before the lighter stories, e.g. the yoga prescription. The behaviour of the presenters also changes as the show draws to a close. After the yoga story, they began commenting on the stories with their own opinions and everything feels “light hearted”.
The show then moves on to the sports headlines. The London trend continues here with only London football teams and cricketers that play for London teams being featured here. A live link is provided to Upton Park, the home of West Ham United, which is hosting a London derby for the Carling Cup.
Other football teams mentioned include Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and other such capital-based teams. Another live link is then provided to a reported at White Hart Lane (the home of Tottenham Hotspurs) where speculation continues on who will takeover as the permanent manager. Cricket news then followed, following the Surrey-based cricketer, Ricki Clarke. These are all obviously human interest stories and shows that they do realise that people will eventually get bored of the fact-based stories in the main part of the show.
When the sports news concludes, another live link back to Westminster is provided with an update of any events that have happened. The question and answer session is brief and when it ends, further comments by the presenters follow to continue the “light hearted feel”. A final story is given on the rescue of a police horse, which was hurt during a football riot. This is another example of a positive story and thus ending the programme on a high note.
The ident music then starts again and as the set fades away, the credits roll up the screen.
But how each story is prioritised is not the only thing that affects the presentation of the show and how it reaches out to its target audience. There is also the treatment of the story to consider. The treatment of the story includes the use of language, formality of language, the possibility of wordplay and the range of vocabulary used. The duration of the show that a single story may take will also be classed under treatment of story.
As one watch through the programme, the audience will realise that like the mood of the presenters, the language use and formality changes as the show nears its end. When the ‘Iain Duncan Smith vote’ story first came up, everything was very formal and seemed aristocratic. However, when the sports story came up and the sports presenter started a brief conversation with a reporter on-location, the language, although still of a high standard, was more relaxed and not as formal.
The only contradicting part of the programme to the theory that “the longer the show goes on, the more informal the language” was that when it went back to the Iain Duncan Smith story at the end, the language went back to being very formal and aristocratic. This leads us onto another hypothesis: “the more formal the story, the more formal the language”. This seems to be the case in the show as you would not find the same vocabulary range and sentence structure as well as language formality in say the “Police Horse” story than the “Iain Duncan Smith vote” story. In the later stories, Alastair Stewart (who has been the main London Tonight presenter for more than a decade now) will make use of his experience of the English language and would insert some puns here and there and generally play with the words. This only happens during the more informal stories, however, which once again reaffirms my theory on language formality.
In conclusion, the team behind London Tonight has shaped every aspect of the show in order to appeal to a certain target audience. That target audience that it was shaped for fits at least one, if not all, of the following:
* Lives, works or has an interest in London and the immediate surrounding area. Broadcasting London news will give a news value of “closeness to home”. This is apparent because of the choice of story, the London inspired ident sequence and most obviously, the name of the show itself.
* The target audience works in the capital and has just come home, wishing to watch the news and have it delivered to him/her as quickly as possible. This is evident from the time the show goes on air (6pm) and the amount of detail it goes into on each story.
* The target audience lives or has some connection to both inner and outer London. This becomes clear as they cover many stories outside of central/inner London as well as in it.
* The target audience ranges from teenagers to middle aged people as well as OAPs. Both the choice of stories as well as choice of presenters tells us this.
After close analysis of this episode of London Tonight, I think I can say that I have managed to find how each and every aspect of London Tonight has been shaped in order to appeal to a certain type of audience within the capital.