International football, then. Is it a grave matter, more serious than life and death, something that should rightly occupy every synapse in our heads? Or is it just a pleasant distraction on long summer evenings, of no more broad significance than Olympic dressage, something we shouldn't invest too heavily in? The rival terrestrial channels have taken approaches to their presentation that neatly illustrate the two poles.
The BBC have based their team in a windowless underground bunker, not unlike the one thar houses the familiar MOTD setup. The furniture is Tron-shiny and elliptical, the virtual glass panels are reminiscent of the mid-90s BBC news studio, and the orange/black/white colour scheme gives the whole thing the feel of a Gillette advert - as if Alan might at any moment lean forward conspiratorially and say 'guys like us know that we have to look and feel at our best to perform. That's why I always use...'
Perhaps aware of the avalanche of criticism that fell their way during the World Cup, the team have (as Dhanveer observed the other day) made an effort to up their collective game. Maybe it's just that in a 16 team finals there are fewer no-marks to patronise and dismiss, but the analysis does seem to have moved beyond simple observation of failure or success coloured by assumed canards. Dixon and Shearer restrict themselves to what they were supposed to bring to the table in the first place (to distinguish them from you, me, or the nearest liveblogger) - a career's worth of experience as a top-level defender and striker, respectively. I was surprised to realise that even Shearer has useful insights lurking inside that bullet head. Lawrenson's banter-into-the-abyss co-commentary remains a problem - to share a quip from @immolations, it's 'like that of the chuckle brothers if one of paul or barry was dead'.
As the team lean forward from their minimalist chairs, unleashing all kinds of computerised in-screen gadgets to illustrate their points, the message is clear - these are serious men having serious discussion on serious matters. For all of Lineker's vaguely sleazy quip-laden compering, the process is as solemn as an episode of Newsnight. This isn't helped by the previews and idents - witness last night's shocking 'CAPTAIN. LEADER. WARRIOR' clip with Gerrard (encouraging him to live up to the example of England's past captains like Terry Butcher*).
Compare and contrast with ITV, who have taken a much more laid-back approach, from the moment their frankly charming and decidedly un-bombastic animated intro comes on screen. Their pre- and post-match analysis comes to us from a location studio with a huge picture window overlooking Warsaw's old town. The studio lights are reflected in well-scrubbed pine flooring and the team perch on tasteful Habitat-esque wicker chairs - it's like a high-end business retreat. The travelogue feel is only strengthened by the presence at the helm of Adrian Chiles, a man most recently known for presenting a primetime magazine show, who's only too happy to drop Rough Guide trivia into the mix ('the Palace of Culture and Science there... very much Stalin's unwanted gift to Poland').
The panel are more immediately interesting than the BBC's team (perhaps due to the curdled sense of fatigued familiarity with Hansen et al). Jamie Carragher was presumably brought in in an attempt to emulate the success of Gary Neville at Sky - unashamedly partial, occasionally spiky but clearly informed and reasonable in front of the cameras. Then there's Patrick Viera, who keeps his contributions short and usually needs Adrian's prompting to participate in the discussion. He has the air of a happily married man at an after-work function - content enough to sit back and listen to the office talk, but ultimately spoiling to be at home with people he genuinely likes. Furthest right we have Gareth Southgate, a man apparently cursed to forever bear the mannerisms of a teenager at his first job interview (his overuse of the hands in an attempt to appear confident and authoritative is a textbook nervous-interviewee symptom).
Topics of discussion are batted around casually as the sun sets behind the team, with stats and virtual-visual aids kept to a minimum - it's a very different atmosphere to the cabin-fevered quest for truth in the BBC bunker.
*Butcher, of course, revered for his visible and ostentatious bleeding in Sweden, not unlike the panel's fawning over Parker and Gerrard as they limped to heroic non-defeat against France - just why do we enjoy seeing our footballers suffer so much? Cue overblown 'St Sebastian for England' post sometime next week.