Written by Media, TV

The Death of TV Reviewers

There have been a couple of pieces recently wondering about why we’re losing TV critics in our national newspapers. Ray Snoddy in Marketing magazine wrote about it last week following the ditching of daily TV reviews by the Daily Telegraph. He noted that the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail have also ditched them. Now those latter two papers can do anything they like because I’m not likely to see them (even when I’m suckered into picking one up for a free DVD). But I’m surprised that the Telegraph has gone down this route.
Personally I find that the TV review column is one of the first I turn to when picking up a paper, and the column’s loss would be akin to the removal of the crossword (something that wouldn’t worry me, but I know would impact on sales overnight).
So why are they doing it. Well everyone whoops and chears if a drama gets 6 million viewers these days – mass audiences are not what they were, but 6 million is still a lot of people. As Radio Times editor Gill Hudson notes in a blog over at The Guardian, it’s significantly higher than any newspaper’s readership.
As others have noted, papers are happy to run reviews of classical music and theatre – activities that are far less popular.
I think it’s actually a bad mistake on those newspapers’ behalf to stop their TV columns.
It’s true that some writing can become stale after a time. I got fed up in the end by Victor Lewis Smith in the Evening Standard. The facile jokes meant that I tended to join the review in paragraph two or three to skip them. But then he also reviewed programmes other than those provided by PR departments for that week. So if that meant a review of an hour of Ideal World, then so be it. And if something was good, he spoke up for it as well. I also dislike Sam Wollaston a lot of the time in The Guardian. He can be too much of a show-off far too often, and when he recently moaned that coming in at the start of series 4 of Battlestar Galactica was too confusing, I felt like throttling him. Having a complicated ongoing story is something to be applauded not moaned about. I’d also advise starting The Wire at episode one too. Finally on the moan list there’s the appalling Kathryn Flett at The Observer. As a commentor on the Guardian’s blog noticed, she doesn’t seem to be writing her column for that newspaper’s target audience.
But that’s enough moaning. I like plenty of others. Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn is well worth a read even if he’s likely to have a tendency to concentrate on tat like B*g B*****r. But he’s happy to write about good programmes from time to time. Nancy Banks Smith is still great, and the Independent’s reviewers remain good.
I think my defence for keeping reviewers is that TV is still incredibly important to a large proportion of the population. We spend over three and a half hours a day on average watching it according to BARB. Britain’s Got Talent seemed to have a large proportion of the population held in rapture for a week or so recently, and the winners of anything from X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing or The Apprentice are devoured by reality TV obsessed media. So people do actually care about television.
Despite the advent of the internet, DVDs, video games and a plethora of other things fighting for your attention, people pretty much watch TV to the same extent as they did ten years ago.

Source: BARB
Of course a review of The Apprentice isn’t the same as documentary on Early Music on BBC Four. But they’re both important.
When I was younger, it used to confuse me that most TV reviews came out after the programme had aired. You’d not be able to watch the great show that the reviewer loved, but you might thank your lucky stars that you missed the one the reviewer hated. Either way, it was gone into the ether. There might be a repeat in a few months’ time, but unless you knew someone who’d videoed it, you were out of luck.
These days programmes on digital channels tend to get multiple same week repeats, so if you missed the latest episode of Lost, you can catch up during another airing. And then there’s the iPlayer and its equivalents. Missed an episode of The Apprentice? Watch it online and get up to date. You might have Sky+ed a show and not have watched it – the review may help you decide whether to bother watching it, or free up some space on your device and hit the delete key.
So why give up on them? I really don’t know.
Some argue that anyone can comment on TV via their blogs or on forums. Well so they can. But they do the same with films, and I don’t think anyone’s rushing to dump their film reviewers. I can only think that it’s snobbery that considers TV not one of the arts (it’s instructive to look at newspaper websites or sections where TV is its own section and not part of the “Arts” section).
Well I can be the biggest snob in the world, but in this instance they’ve got it wrong, and I think it’ll cost them sales in the long term.