TV in 2002

The following is my response to the review of the year published by OTT.
A great review of the year.
And now, permit me to go through some of my own highlights, but mostly lowlights. This is a very snobbish set of views, which I stand by whole-handedly. Apologies if this is sometimes rambling, and longwinded.
I am fed up to the back teeth with “reality” TV. Obviously there’s nothing real about it, and the celebrities and fame-seeking members of the public hold no interest to me whatsoever. I want to see comedians being funny, presenters presenting and hear DJ’s DJ-ing, not going through some kind of pseudo psychotherapy at my expense. As for the so-called singers… Form a band, play pubs and clubs, get seen by A&R men. Sing original songs. And as a by product, the charts might improve.
Can we please now have a moratorium on light entertainment shows filmed in bars? The studio has served TV well since the BBC moved to Ally Pally, and there’s no reason it can’t continue to do so. Employ a set designer.
Drama was poor overall I felt this year. ITV is a barren wasteland, that has no long running series that are “averagely” watchable. The only possible show that fits this bill, was, er, The Bill, and that’s been destroyed beyond recognition. Not only have the sensationalist continuing storylines removed any semblance of real police work, but the occasional viewer can no longer enjoy it, and in any case, no-one has a clue what day or time it’s on. BBC1 was little better, with a few exceptions such as Spooks and well, um, I’ll get back to you. Channel 4 seems to have given up on drama altogether, with Shackleton at the start of the year, and White Teeth at the end the only ones I can think of that aren’t either one-offs or soaps. Incidentally, I note there was no big-budget New Year two-parter this year (e.g. the aforementioned Shackleton, Sword of Honour or Longitude affairs). Too busy making the “Top Ten Programmes We Didn’t Make But Can Show Clips Of”. Just its imports with which it manages to shoot itself in the foot – see below. Five has never had any pretensions, but at least has a couple of the better imports in CSI and The Shield, to give BBC2 a run for its money with 24. But then it wasn’t a stellar year for BBC2 either.
Comedy I think has been well covered, although an honourable mention should be made to Black Books.
Arts coverage was light, although it can be seen as considerable when compared with science coverage. There’s Horizon, and, well, Tomorrow’s World I guess and any other programme that Adam Hart-Davis is in. At least that was the case until today. The Beeb have effectively cancelled Tomorrow’s World, so now I suppose their “safari” editions of Walking With Dinosaurs will count towards their science hours tally. Terrible. Certainly other channels had science-lite programmes such as Salvage Squad and Scrapheap Challenge (for which I profess a soft spot), and cross-over fare like the Science of War, but overall we’re poorly served. A science-illiterate public is then encouraged to lap up partworks like the currently advertised “Mind Body and Spirit” (tarot cards, runes, healing crystals and astrology all in one magazine), “history” programmes that involve places like Atlantis with Graham Hancock, and the decidedly unsettling amount of “Crossing Over with John Edwards” on Living which will surely turn up on terrestrial telly sometime soon. But no one can say history isn’t well served, even if reconstruction shows must feature leather clad bikerchick and Porsche driving scientists. Otherwise we’re purely left with Sky at Night.
This year’s fad is undoubtedly auction programmes. We’ve seemingly gone off spending fifty quid to do up our whole house with MDF and emulsion – we want to sell crap from the attic at auctions and make money. Here today and very much gone tomorrow programming.
I’ve kind of given up with ITV as a lost cause (Serious and Organised anyone?), but dear oh dear, there’s Channel 4, and its sister station E4. I can’t now see how Channel 4 can keep its badge of being a public service broadcaster. Big Brother takes over large swathes of programming for a couple of months or more a year, practically excluding anything else, and the decision to strip Graham Norton is a short term decision which will cost them dearly over the longer run. Big Brother aside, which is clearly there to give it an amphetamine-like ratings injection, Graham Norton is preventing the channel doing anything else. They can’t easily run big imported drama series like The Sopranos at 9.00pm since they’ll clash with strong BBC1 and ITV programming. But the 10.00pm slot is full, meaning that shows run at 10.30pm, at which point many still look at their papers, see the programme doesn’t finish until 11.40pm (cos HBO don’t do ads in the middle), and decide that’s too late for them to stay up. And when they do get a 10.00pm slot for The West Wing, BBC2 runs 24 against it. Oh dear. An over-reliance on sex to the extent that they’re reported to have pulled a few shows to stop the diet being quite so unrelenting. Serious films no longer get shown in primetime even if they’re FilmFour funded, and as we all know foreign language films have been banished from the face of terrestrial television. Even some of their big imports go awry. Alias is shown at teatime and has to be cut (as Angel was before it), and Enterprise is lost in the mire of weekend programming even after BBC2 has shown what a fillip a big fan-base can be.
And then there’s the Jekyl and Hyde channel – E4. Aimed at 16-34’s, it’s filled with non-stop Big Brother at certain times, but otherwise Smallville, Hollyoaks repeats, Dawsons Creak and original programming aimed at a similar audience. What can it be doing wrong? Well if that was all it ran, I’d have no problem. But then this channel also has first runs of Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and The West Wing. You cannot persuade me that the average West Wing fan is also a big Dawson’s Creek or Chained viewer, although I’m sure there are one or two. Nor is The Sopranos viewer the natural person to stay on to watch St Tropez Summer and Eurotrash repeats. You tune in, watch your two hours of Thursday night programming (“Brand New ER”) and then tune out. And this impacts badly on Channel 4 too. Many people have absolutely no idea of which series on The Sopranos or Sex and the City is being shown where. They both get the same type of advertising, and intelligent viewers are utterly lost. Serious newspapers can’t do a profile on the stars of, say, Six Feet Under for both the E4 and C4 showings. If you do your big interview with the E4 showing, two thirds of your readership can’t see it, but if you wait until the C4 showing, it’s old news. You also lose the “water-cooler” moments that kick start series like The Office or This Life into, umm, well, life. I note that the new series of Friends is to premiere the episode on E4 on Thursdays and then repeat it on C4 on Fridays. Can you imagine the fun at work/school on Friday mornings when some have seen it and but most haven’t. But those who haven’t aren’t really going to take our subscriptions to E4 for the sake of 24 hours are they? Incidentally the, BBC who were rumoured to be toying with the idea of doing the same for EastEnders on BBC Three, have now decided that they’ll just do one week. There would have been uproar if it had been on a permament basis, never mind the damage it would have done: “Don’t tell me who Laura’s baby’s father is, I don’t want to know.” Chaos. E4’s nearest equivalent is Sky One, a channel that doesn’t have to care about a terrestrial sister, and who knows its Simpsons and Sci-Fi audience well. E4 needs to do one thing or the other but not both.
And finally there’s sport, which plays an important part of my TV life. Aside from this weekends terrible BBC FA Cup pickings (they’ve chosen some fairly dull all Premiership encounters), there was some very good World Cup coverage, but overall there wasn’t anything special about this year’s coverage of sport. Certainly those of us with digital faired well with the BBC’s Wimbledon, World Cup, Open Golf and Commonwealth Games coverage, but C4 was again poor. Their live cricket coverage is excellent, but as soon as we move into highlights, they could be on at any time – probably not when people can watch. Some of their Ashes highlights this winter have only aired after play has started on the following day. Horse Racing probably does well, but then it’s essentially promoting a satellite channel – “At The Races”. C4 lose interest too quickly with newly signed up sports – the World Rally Championship being a prime example, being relegated into the small hours. At the same time events like Le Tour De France are dumped unceremoneously (this actually happened last year). F1 was dull dull dull on ITV although that’s not their fault, and I shan’t even dwell on ITV Digital. Champions League coverage was the usual Man Utd above all else, with no ability to provide regional opt-outs, especially in London where Arsenal are atrociously served by Carlton for the most part. The Premiership has not improved at all on the old Match of the Day, and somehow Football Focus remains better than On The Ball even though it has no footage.
Overall, I can only say that my DVD player saw more use than was healthy.
Here’s to 2003,