Nigel Farage’s GB News debut: ‘juicy and dripping’ or ‘mind-numbingly boring’?
Former UKIP leader drafted in to revive channel’s plummeting viewing figures
Last night marked the launch of Nigel Farage’s primetime GB News show, Farage, said to be part of a programming reboot designed to entice audiences to the beleaguered channel.
Since it started on 13 June, GB News has been hit with various controversies, most recently the “cancelling” of presenter Guto Harri for symbolically “taking the knee” during a discussion about the racism directed towards black footballers during the 2020 Euros. A senior executive resigned after Harri was taken off air and the channel’s director of programming also quit the station, The Guardian has reported.
Now the former UKIP leader has been drafted in with the hope of reviving the channel’s plummeting viewing figures, which have been so low that some broadcasts “attracted zero viewers”, says the newspaper.
Farage, whose new show runs at 7pm Monday to Thursday, was in his “greatest hits mode” as he launched the programme last night, writes The Telegraph’s Ed Power. The Brexiteer despaired at refugees crossing the channel, eye-rolled over news that the EU flag may fly at the Olympics opening ceremony and sipped a pint with the head of the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, at the “GB News pub”. “It was all vaguely box-ticking and predictable,” adds Power, who gave the debut three stars, but “still, Farage fans will have enjoyed it. This was red meat served juicy and dripping.”
But Sean O’Grady in The Independent complains that it was “littered with mistakes and mind-numbingly boring”.
Farage “promised us that his show wouldn’t be a stale echo chamber”, says O’Grady, but then chose a former Tory donor and Brady to interview. “So a bit of an echo, maybe?”
To be fair to Farage, he can at least “string a sentence together”, understands politics and is a good debater, says O’Grady. “He’s better than most of the competition on GBeebies. But it’s rather like when he was the only competent leader of UKIP. I’d like to see him argue properly with the likes of Blair, Starmer, Sturgeon, Ed Davey, but it’s not going to happen. The Farage show is just like the rest of GB News: a football match played with only one team on the pitch or, at best, a boring friendly.”
Farage’s rescue bid comes five weeks after the channel kicked off with a five-minute monologue by GB News’ chair Andrew Neil.
Offering a mixture of news updates, opinion and debate, GB News is the biggest of its kind launched in the UK since Sky News began broadcasting in 1989. Neil told viewers that his new project would give “a voice to those who have felt sidelined or even silenced in our great national debates”.
The new channel will “not slavishly follow the existing news agenda”, the veteran political commentator promised, and will “not lecture” or “talk down” to the audience. “GB News will not be yet another echo chamber for the metropolitan mindset that already dominates so much of the media,” he added.
Neil’s straight-to-camera “set-up felt vaguely North Korean”, wrote Chris Bennion in a four-star review of the launch for The Telegraph.
And another monologue followed from the presenter of the 9pm slot, former talkRADIO host and Sun showbiz reporter Dan Wootton. The New Zealand-born journalist gave his views on topics ranging from England players “taking the knee” to Boris Johnson having “bottled it” over the 21 June lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
Indeed, his “foxy, fact-free” monologue “wouldn’t have shamed Tucker Carlson”, said O’Grady for The Independent, in a reference to Fox News’ nightly political talk show host.
But “you did have to wonder, if it is setting a ‘fresh agenda’, whether having Nigel Farage and Lord Sugar as some of Wootton’s first guests was helpful”, said Carol Midgley in her three-star review for The Times.
Clips from the launch quickly went viral, including Wootton’s chat with The Apprentice boss, who described Keir Starmer as “a nutter” and the row over football players taking the knee as “ridiculous”.
Lord Sugar had “nothing to declare but his ignorance”, said The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries, who awarded the show’s launch just one star. “It was an utterly deadly segment” where Sugar “told us about his knee op, like some dear old grandad leaning on the garden fence as the long day closes and you wish you were somewhere else”, Jeffries wrote.
Even The Telegraph’s slightly more impressed Bennion agreed that Wootton’s Tonight Live wasn’t the best opener. With Neil “having spent an hour stressing that GB News would be grown-up, responsible and level-headed, what the channel cried out for was the firmest hand on the tiller from the go”, Bennion argued.
The launch event was also plagued by technical issues, from out-of-sync sound to hazy camera quality. “The first hour of GB News looked like a hostage video filmed on a Nokia 3310,” wrote one Twitter user.
“There was no disguising the mic failure” either, said the i news site’s arts and media correspondent Adam Sherwin in his four-star review. “A punchy start but was the medium sabotaging the message?”
Actually, these glitches “may well have boosted GB News’s cause, giving more credence to the idea that they are ‘disruptors’, outsiders taking on the slick establishment”, said Bennion in The Telegraph. “The BBC doesn’t have glitches.”
Either way, the channel’s debut certainly attracted plenty of interest. According to the Press Gazette, data from the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB) showed that 164,400 viewers tuned in for GB News last night - more than watched either BBC News, at 133,000, or Sky News, at 57,000.