Last night was a rare old night for watching travel programmes on TV. Competing for the prime-time 9pm slot were Paul Merton in India (Five) and Griff Rhys Jones in Greatest Cities of the World (ITV1).
From the ITV press release: “Griff Rhys Jones gets under the skin of three of the greatest cities on earth for a new three part documentary series. Exploring a day-in-the-life of New York, London and Paris, Griff paints a landmark portrait of each metropolis revealing what gives each city its unique identity. He works with garbage men in New York, gives a cut and blow dry to a poodle in Paris and tries his hand at bell ringing in London.”
Garbage men? Poodles? Has this got anything to do with tourism? Maybe not, but it seems that it’s all we have to look forward to nowadays if we want to see decent programmes about travel.
In the Independent, TV reviewer Tom Sutcliffe gives it a bit of a hard time: “It takes a rare dedication to the obvious to open your New York travelogue with a cityscape and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, as Woody Allen famously did in Manhattan, and then simply not bother to undercut the second-hand romanticism with any kind of self-deprecating joke.”
After Griff’s opening line of: "Over the next 24 hours, I intend to explore this town and try to understand what really makes New York New York", Sutcliffe goes on to wonder at the brevity of such a programme, no doubt designed for today’s average channel-surfing viewer. "Twenty-four hours? There are people who've lived there all their lives who wouldn't pretend to know.”
Following up his earlier series in China, Paul Merton is playing his part in keeping Michael Palin’s shoes warm by presenting a five-part series from India. He met a lot of bizarre characters, poked fun and generally looked bemused for an hour.
Tim Teeman in the Times argues that there’s nothing wrong with this light-hearted approach. “Bite-sized pieces of eccentricity help us sofa-bound viewers (ooh look, crazy place that India; ooh look, crazy place that New York),” but asks: “Did we find out anything new about either place?”
“Merton, in khaki summer suit,” says Teeman, “didn’t look to be having much fun. He was almost knocked over a few times on the teeming streets.”
The battle of these two celebrity travelogues saw Griff's amble around New York come out on top, with 3.4 million viewers and a 15% share compared with 1.8 million and 8% for Paul Merton, according to unofficial overnight figures.
Merton's show was on a par with his previous journey for Five, Merton In China, which attracted 1.9m viewers and an 8% share in May 2007. BBC1 was the winner at 9pm, however, with drama Silent Witness picking up 6.1 million viewers and a 26% share across an hour.
So the viewing public have spoken. And given the choice between Paul Merton, Griff Rhys Jones and Emilia Fox, I know which one I would rather…
Eagle-eyed viewers would have also noticed the premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s new Australia adverts, replacing the controversial "Where the bloody hell are you?" campaign.
The ad, features a stressed female executive being urged to "go walkabout" by a young aboriginal boy. It’s quite a departure from the previous campaign.
The ad is part of a A$40m (£15m) global ad campaign that will run in 22 markets until the middle of next year. Tourism Australia is spending a further A$10m globally on promotions around the launch of Luhrmann's forthcoming film, Australia, which stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.
The UK is the first international market in which the ad campaign will run. You can watch it here.