October, 2008

When Will We Take TV Criticism Seriously?

While many papers like the Daily Mail are getting rid of their TV critics, despite the fact that vast parts of their paper revolves around the medium, others provide a fuller service, but I begin to wonder why they bother.
My paper of choice is The Guardian. And they employ one of the finest television critics writing today in Nancy Banks Smith. They also have the excellent Screen Burn with Charlie Brooker.
But then they insist on employing Sam Wollaston as well.
Why should writing about TV be seen as some kind of way to get into comedy writing? We’re talking about the medium that is foremost in most people’s minds. They spend many precious hours in front of their television, and by and large take it seriously. They care about what they watch – be it Emmerdale or University Challenge. Certainly, people want entertainment, but if they think a programme is rubbish, they don’t watch it.
That’s why I want to read a critic who can inform as well as occasionally entertain me.
The Guardian also employs Peter Bradshaw as its film critic. Now he may be sneeringly supercilious, seemingly hating most films that he watches. But he does care about them, and even if he only gives Burn After Reading two stars out of five, he at least believes in it, and it’s because he takes the medium seriously.
Wollaston on the other hand, reviews an episode of Timewatch, largely concerned about how attractive he finds the presenter.
Phwoar, new TV history totty. She looks like a cross between Boticelli’s Venus and Meryl Streep’s French Lieutenant’s Woman. And she’s brainy as hell and writes books.
Yes – I know he’s saying it for effect. But over time, you wonder if that’s really not all he’s thinking about. Was the show any good? Is it worth me watching on the iPlayer?
He then goes on to discuss a programme on Ian Fleming, largely on the basis of how attractive he finds Joanna Lumley. Only a review of the US edition of Wife Swap do we learn anything vaguely interesting – basically that they make stuff up for it and reshoot scenes.
That’s not enough. Tell me about the programmes please. And if you can’t do it seriously, then maybe I should be looking elsewhere for my television criticism.
Now let me chase down a copy of Clive James on Television.
[UPDATE] Oh dear. Today’s Wollaston column is arguably even worse than yesterday’s. Shark sex “looks wrong” to him. This is then followed by lots of guffaw guffaw writing about animals having sex. How amusing thirteen-year-old Guardian readers must find it all.
Later on he moves on to The Sarah Silverman Programme. This has apparantly leapt ahead of Fonejacker as the funniest thing currently on television. Now Silverman is funny – although that’s probably debateable if you were in the audience at Hammersmith the other night when you got 45 full minutes of comedy for your £50.
But even the idea that Fonejacker was ever the funniest thing is utterly bizarre. It’s a rehashing of the decades old art of phone pranking better practioned in the medium of audio by such people as Victor Lewis Smith, The Jerky Boys and even Jon Culshaw as “The Doctor” on Dead Ringers.
With Wollaston at The Guardian and Kathryn Flett at The Observer, it feels like a horrible pincer movement’s happening.

CNN Graphs

In his Guardian column today, Charlie Brooker says that he watched the third presidential debate live on CNN because they had a fancy graph along the bottom showing what some undecided voters thought about what the candidates were saying as they said it.
Now I haven’t yet seen the third debate. It’s still on my PVR, because I heard it was a little dull, and anyway, I watched the next day’s Daily Show (it must be said, that there was that fantastic picture that came from that third debate).
But I did watch the second debate with accompanying graph. But after CNN had heard from all fifteen or so of their panel, they cut to their panel of uncommitted voters who we were told had contributed to that graph, and heard some of their comments. Yet, there weren’t very many of them. In fact I paused my PVR and counted – there were 25.
Those lines have had a lot of coverage, and people seem to like them. But are they really the product of just 25 people? That wouldn’t make them terribly statistically significant (of course we didn’t get a scale either – just a general up = good and down = bad thing).
For good statistical analysis of this election, go to Pollster.com.

Recent Films

I must admit that I’ve been pretty poor at writing about films of late, and you might think it was because I hadn’t seen any. To be honest, I haven’t been to the cinema this year as frequently as I have in the past and it’s not solely because the experience is so dreadful these days. But then who, besides the cinema in question, should be responsible for the fact that the digital screening I saw of The Dark Knight seemed to flicker the whole way through because there was a problem with the projector.
Speaking of projectors, I actually got to peer into a projection booth a week or so ago (we were showing some ads at a plush London cinema), and there’s a fascinating amount of kit in there. It was also obvious that the projectionist who ran all four of that cinema’s screens from a single corridor, was a big Jessica Alba fan with a variety of life-size cut-outs and posters in the room.
Anyway – to the films. Jar City is based on Arnaldur Indriðason’s novel of the same name. Well – I say the same name – but in the UK, the book was published as Tainted Blood. The film seems to have had a release in the UK mainly because it’s directed by Baltasar Kormákur who previously made the only other Icelandic film anybody might be able to name – Reykjavik 101. But it’s still taken its stately time to cross the stretch of the Atlantic to reach us, having been made back in 2006. Of course, we barely have diplomatic relations with Iceland these days, but this is very much a worthwhile film.
As Indriðason’s novels have begun to gain ground in the UK, it’s worth saying up front that this film is an incredibly good dramatisation of the novel. Iceland as we usually see it, is filled with dramatic scenery, yet here we have a somewhat bleaker portrait of the country. Well worth seeing, although disappointingly, I can’t find news of any further books being filmed. A US remake does seem to be on the cards though.
Gomorrah is simply fantastic. The praise it has received in the press is fully deserved. I’ve always hated films like the Al Pacino version of Scarface (which has nothing on the original) that essentially glamourise gangsters. In Gomorrah, two of the characters – a pair of youths – re-enact scenes from that very film before they find a stash of the Camorra’s weapons. When you see them playing with the guns in a river estuary, you genuinely fear for them as they mess around with these very dangerous armaments.
The film is a series of stories that don’t so much interlock as take place in the same milieu. The squalid setting of the Naples suburb which feels utterly lawless. While some stories reveal the pettiness of it all, as the various factions of these mafia break up causing tensions, and inevitably deaths, others are more revealing. I think many are aware of the dreadful waste industry scandals that have hit Naples. This film makes it clear, as we see a seemingly respectable businessman heading to places such as Venice to sign deals to get rid of waste. In turn it’s buried, mostly illegally, with little regard for safety, in farmers’ fields. The land becomes toxic. Nobody cares.
The other fascinating story is of a tailor who tries to escape the Comorra, by teaching Chinese workers how to produce garments to the quality required by the Italian fashion industry. At one point a Milanese fashion house representative seeks bids for a batch of haute couture outfits. The various tailors outdo themselves to underbid one another and offer to complete the outfits in faster times. Nobody in charge really cares about the workers who will literally have to work around the clock to meet the deadlines they’ve been signed up for.
A Coen brothers film is always worth watching – well with the singular exception of their remake of The Ladykillers – which I only finally saw when it was on TV. Burn After Reading’s their latest, and it seems to have disappointed an awful lot of people after last year’s No Country For Old Men.
To be honest, I went in knowing exactly what I was going to get, and I got it. This comes from someone who found Intolerable Cruelty to be entertaining in its own way, and The Hudsucker Proxy to be an under-appreciated classic. So a nonsense tale of some supposed lost CIA secrets on a disc, is perfectly fine.
Is there much to be said about society in this film? Not really. There are gags aimed at much slighter subjects, but that’s not really the point. Everyone here is just having fun. There are brief moments of violence, but that’s par for the course in a Coen brothers film.
The showing I saw was the first packed, paid-for showing of any film I’ve seen in years. And that was for a 6.30pm screening (albeit in Islington). While it’s not joke after joke, I came out feeling that I’d had value for money. George Clooney’s goofy; John Malkovich’s supercilious; Brad Pitt is dumb; Tilda Swinton is overbearing; and Francis McDormand is insecure – at least initially. And the conversations between CIA officer David Rasche and his superior JK Simmons are fantastic. Well worth a trip to your local cinema – assuming it’s not too terrible.

Peter Kay’s X-Factor Pastiche

[I must admit that this is a revised version of some comments I already posted on a Guardian blog] Peter Kay is someone I’ve observed more from afar than anything. I’ve never watched Phoenix Nights (shoot me now), and I’ve only caught bits of his various live routines. I enjoyed the Amarillo video enough, but I really wasn’t sure what I was going to make of his one-off X-Factor take-off on Channel 4 last night.
Overall, I was disappointed – it just wasn’t funny enough.
The programme was brilliantly close to the real thing. And that, for me, was its problem. The original is already a pastiche of itself with over-hyped editing, long pauses, whooping audience, over the top comments and so on.
I’m sure that they’ve simply employed many of the staff who usually work on these shows to get the look exactly right – from the stage set to the choreography and the editing.
But that makes taking the mickey out of it very hard to do.
The main problem was with the players. While the “contestants” were all comedy actors including Kay himself as “Gerladine”, the show was held together by presenters, judges and “celebrities” who were all playing themselves and had to read lines that had been written for them. And they just weren’t good enough. While those shows are scripted anyway, they’re not expecting to be getting laughs. In this instance, they were – it’s a Peter Kay comedy after all.
I think it would have been funnier if Kay had perhaps played more characters himself – perhaps all the contestants. Or if he’d had comedians taking the place of the presenter and judges. Instead, we had Cat Deeley, who is a perfectly fine presenter, but who wasn’t funny delivering her lines.
And I’d have liked a little more subtlety in some of the gags. There were some nice jokes about how little of the price of the phone vote went to charity. But once we’d seen it several times onscreen, we didn’t need Deeley telling voicing the joke as well. Just leave it for those who read it to get it.
Also, it was very odd scheduling to put it up against the Strictly Come Dancing results show. Undoubtedly it would be most appreciated by people who love the shows it’s mimicing.
While there were some entertaining set pieces like the two women from 2 Up 2 Down being winched into the air to retrieve balloons and cats in a truly tasteless piece of choreography, and one of them falling out of their chair only to not be rescued by Rick Astley until he realised that his line in the song was imminent and he had to drop her.
But overall, I thought the gags wore thin, and I didn’t bother with the second half.
Finally, given that this wasn’t live, there were a few bits that perhaps should have been bleeped for a pre-watershed show. “Dr” Fox mouthed an expletive in close-up that definitely shouldn’t have been left in, and a blowjob gag really isn’t suitable that early on. A week or so ago, Bruno Tonioli made a tasteless gag that got him a swift look from Bruce on Strictly Come Dancing. Not clever, but it was live. I’m no prude, but rules are rules and ours are pretty good. So either it should have been edited or gone out a bit later. And I hear that the language was “fruitier” later on. Again, you can curse and swear as much as you like post watershed, but not in a programme that partially airs before the watershed. I really dislike the idea that a show that straddles the watershed should be acceptable viewing for kids earlier on, but not later on. This show is bound to have had a decent sized audience of kids, so it’s a bit schizophrenic to have the final part essentially unsuitable for kids (I know we could get into a massive conversation about whether shows aimed at kids like, say, Skins, are really suitable, but that’s for another time). Be one thing or another – not both.

Channel 4 Radio

So finally, on Friday, came the news that Channel 4 was pulling the plug on its radio operation.
Let’s revisit a little history. Commercial Radio has been broadcast nationally in UK on Digital One since 2002. But of late, the platform has struggled to be filled with the ten or so services it needs to fully utilise the bandwidth it has available. At the time of writing, it just has digital simulcasts of the three national commercial analogue stations, as well as Planet Rock. Several test channels and a Birdsong channel make up the rest of the multiplex.
The other national DAB multiplex is that belonging to the BBC, carrying simulcasts of its five core services as well as the World Service, BBC Asian Network and several digital only services including 1Xtra, 6Music and BBC Radio 7.
It was into this world that Ofcom decided to offer a second national commercial multiplex. It must be said that Digital One did have more services on it at the time, but there was enormous disapproval from GCap who believed that Digital One had been guaranteed the sole national DAB slot.
Ofcom put the slot out for tender and two groups responded: NGW and Channel 4 Radio. From the outset, Channel 4 looked the likelier winner, with the company itself offering three services: the flagship Channel 4 Radio, which was popularly called C4’s competitor to BBC Radio 4; the youth E4 Radio; and the more adult Pure 4 Radio. It’s safe to assume that the latter two of these were music driven.
Other suppliers would make up the rest of the multiplex, with UTV offering Talk Radio, SMG offering Virgin Radio Viva, and other operators providing Sky News Radio, Original, Disney, Sunrise and Closer. Beyond that, a selection of podcasts from a diverse list would be made available.
When the licence was awarded in July 2007, the multiplex was supposed to be on air within a year – or at least one of the channels should be. But there was the small matter of building an entire network of transmitters. Channel 4 was keen that the network should largely be in place by launch, but this was at the same time as the two main UK tranmission companies were merging, and DTT switchover was occcuring.
As it became obvious that no contract had been awarded, conditions were getting tougher. On a corporate level, Channel 4 was keen to get its hands on a top-slice of BBC licence funding. Indeed, Ofcom has readily admitted recently that Channel 4 has a significant funding shortfall. Meanwhile over at GCap, as the group struggled to avoid an inevitable takeover by Global, Fru Hazlitt announced a massive pullout from DAB. The costs were too high, and the rewards weren’t there.
That meant the closure of services like theJazz, which had only been on-air for a little over a year, as well as other national DAB services like Core and Life.
So now we were in a position where Channel 4 was short of cash, and still hadn’t launched its new radio service despite time having run out. The country (and indeed the world) was heading into a recession, with the resultant bleak advertising outlook. Finally, current incumbant, Digital One was half empty. Anyone who wanted to get on DAB nationally could – if they could afford it.
Fairly early on, it was obvious that things were never going to be quite how they’d first been described. Radio 4 costs £100m a year. No service – however it’s funded can afford that. No service could even get close. Indeed that figure is low because things like news is at a lower than true cost because resources are shared across the BBC.
The reality of Channel 4 Radio was that it’d have been closer to Five Live without the sport. An upmarket talk station with a flagship breakfast show perhaps.
Then there were the problems of other partners falling out including the loss of Sky News Radio and Virgin Radio Viva.
The likeliest solution seemed to be some kind of agreement between Global (with its shareholding in Digital One following its takeover of GCap) and Channel 4. With a multiplex half empty, there seemed to surely be a case for the two sitting down. Channel 4 might have perhaps launched E4 Radio (perhaps branding it T4?), and maybe one other, while the other spaces would be filled with Global brands.
The difficulty with that plan is that Channel 4 wanted to be the gatekeeper of a multiplex as the formula would mean that their services would be funded by fees received from other suppliers. This plan would leave Channel 4 as perhaps a partner in Digital One (and some attendant costs in becoming that), and only partially receiving fees from services the multiplex carried. Even these would be limited as the majority of new services would surely come from the shareholders themselves. Then we have to examine Global’s plans. With the Heart brand being rolled out across the country, it perhaps no longer makes sense having Heart carried nationally on DAB.
Every local service that will become Heart in the next 12 to 18 months is also carried on a local multiplex. This is a result of incentives put in place to get stations to adopt DAB. By going onto local or regional multiplexes, their analogue licences were extended by 12 years. The alternative was having to rebid for your licence at the end of its period. Most stations took the decision to stump up the cash for DAB in return for that guaranteed additional period.
It was only later that owners began to complain about this cost. And it’s the reason that GCap, for all its harrumphing about DAB earlier this year, didn’t pull out of local DAB. If they had, many licences would have been up for auction.
So Global doesn’t want to put Heart on Digital One. What about Choice or Galaxy? Well they also exist in various guises around the country on local multiplexes. And it’s not always worth pulling them off those services because they’re probably contracted to keep there, and in any case Global has interests in many of those local DAB multiplexes.
So now we’re in a position where Channel 4 has decided at a board level not to pursue DAB. That’s a tragedy for all those who’ve recently joined the company as it began ramping up its staff in advance of a launch. But the big question is what does it mean for the future of DAB?
Against this background, we’ve also had the Digital Radio Working Group sitting all this year. They’re due to report in November or December.
DAB is not dead, as there are a significant number of stations on other multiplexes. In London, where there are three multiplexes, all are jammed full with more stations wanting to get on. It’s certainly true that minorities are being especially well-served with stations targeting many religious and ethnic groups.
Local and regional services have to stay on DAB for the time being, because of their licences. But it would be better if they wanted to be there.
The costs are not to be knocked; where once you just had to pay for your AM and FM transmission, you now have to find cash for DAB, the internet, and perhaps Sky, Freeview and Cable as well.
I think the big question must surely be with Digital One. There are services that I’m sure would love to gain carriage on the multiplex, but the costs are astronomical. Recent launches like NME Radio and the new Jazz FM have not found places on the multiplex, and one would imagine that it’s because of cost. Planet Rock has just signed a three year deal, but it’s still not clear whether the new owner Malcolm Bluemel is treating this as a plaything or a real standalone business. The costs that they must be paying for their DAB carriage alone are horrendous, and it’s those that mean new entrants can’t make their spreadsheets balance. They’re staying off the platform.
Now if I was running an airline, and my planes were half empty because the costs are too high, it’d make sense for me to cut those costs to get my fill levels up. That’s exactly what happens in that and other industries. But Arqiva has traditionally maintained its high prices and seems not to care whether or not the multiplex is filled. Perhaps that’s just my perception.
That’s despite the fact that the entire industry will be stronger with a vibrant range of services available to consumers. They’ll buy more sets and there’ll be more demand.
The Freeview model has been interesting, but for that to work, we need a strong range of services to be carried on Digital One. We’re now entering the critical fourth quarter of the year, when more DAB sets are sold than at any other time.
There are national brands on DAB, but they’re still largely transmitted via a network of local DAB multiplexes. The reason for it happening that way is not logic, but the needs of local analogue services to have the licences extended. Perhaps now’s the time for rethinking and replanning the whole of DAB. As localness deserts ILR, very few stations are truly local any more – certainly not the ten or so that fill a local digital multiplex.
In the end, I don’t have an overall solution, but I do know that we’re going to have to behave with flexibility if we’re going to come out of this with a strong proposition going forward. What’s clear is that this isn’t a technology issue; nobody really cares whether we use DAB, DAB+, DRM or some new standard. But we do need a strong digital radio. New services trying innovative things is what’s going to keep the industry strong. Up until now, listening has held up across most demographics. However there are worrying trends among younger audiences. And while they shouldn’t be the be all and end all, new developments in the technology are what’s going to be most important in years to come.
The opportunity’s still there.
As always, everything here represents my own opinions on not those of my employer.

Statuephilia at The British Museum

Third time lucky – today I finally made it into the Hadrian exhibition. When I’d previously popped in to try to see it, I’d gone on Saturday afternoons when all the tickets for the day had already been sold.
I tried to book online for today, but no luck, so I pitched up early to buy tickets in person. I still had to wait an hour and a half before I could get in, but that’s not a problem when you’re in one of the world’s great museums.
What I hadn’t quite realised was that Statuephilia was also on at the museum. This is a collection of five “sculptures” by contemporary artists, placed amongst the museum’s other exhibits.
Siren, Marc Quinn
They’re quite fascinating – and I decided to take photos of them. Well easier said than done. With four of the five, you can take as many snaps as you like – indeed with a few exceptions, you’re free to photograph away inside the museum. The Hadrian exhibition didn’t allow it, and although I suspect that the reason was partly to ensure that they sold plenty of £25 catalogues, it was very full and taking photos tends to get in the way of the exhibits for other people.
Taking photos of the exhibits in Statuephilia was also fine for most of the exhibits as I say, but there was one for which photography was expressly forbidden. That, of course, was Damian Hurst’s piece. Now as it happens, I did take a photo of his piece. It’s not very good, and it was before I read the sign banning it.
I’ve noticed that it’s quite common for Hirst to ban taking photos of his pieces. I was in the Metropolitan Museum in New York last year where he has one of his sharks on display. Once again, the museum was happy for you take photos, but his piece banned it.
Dark Stuff, Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Perhaps my feelings on the subject aren’t too different from those of some others. The skulls on display at The British Museum really aren’t anything to write home about and certainly aren’t as clever and involving as Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Dark Stuff which was given plentiful approval from those who I saw it with. The relative merits of the vaguely obscene gold statue of Kate Moss are also in the balance, but it’s undoubtedly the most popular piece from the unscientific survey I made today. People were taking photos from every angle. The Hirst piece simply had a woman with her daughter sitting on the floor sketching it, which I assume doesn’t break the rules.

Photos Of Kids

Now here’s a subject that could leave me in all sorts of trouble, because some may have some very strong feelings about it, but it’s prompted by something I heard today.
I was in London, sitting in the sun reading the paper. Nearby a father was playing with his son. He was using DSLR and taking photos of his child.
A charming scene.
Then behind me, another man, sat on his own, also with a DSLR took a few photos. The father realised this and came over.
“Did you just take a photo of him?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the other man.
“Would you delete it please… That’s fine.”
And then he went off with his son.
Now I suppose that there are one or two fundamental issues I have with this.
On the one hand, if you’re a parent, you’re probably going to be concerned if someone else – a stranger – is taking photos of your children. You’ve heard all the stories about paedophiles everywhere. You don’t want your child being the subject of some pervert with a camera.
But in fact, if you’re out in public, anybody can take anybody else’s picture. Just about every street corner has a CCTV camera collecting video of you, and your kids, never mind stills.
Would I take photos specifically of someone else’s children in a public place? Absolutely not – at least not without asking some kind of permission if the circumstances were what they were today.
Yet I have taken photos of kids in public before. Here’s a favourite I took at the seaside:
Kids Playing on the Seafront
Kids were mucking around trying to avoid the waves as they came crashing in against the promenade. It’s a fun photo.
Should I have asked permission before I took it? Well there were no parents immediately around as I recall, but the image captured something interesting.
Now faces aren’t visible in this picture, but then I was at the Mayor of London’s Festival a few weeks ago, which features a carnival procession. I took lots of photos (I’ve yet to process them) and there were hundreds of kids taking part amid the adults. I’ve got photos of lots of different things. Just about everyone else in the crowd was also taking pictures.
In that instance, you’d be a fool if you didn’t think your child was going to photographed. Indeed I saw photographers posing children to get better images as the various groups processed past my point on the side of the road.
Is this wrong? Is it any better or worse than taking a photo of a child playing?
If you think about famous photos taken all over the world, you might think of images of children playing in bombed out London streets during the Blitz, or kids put to work in third world countries. Did those photographers ask permission of parents? Or have they in fact captured some important historical records?
While, as I say, I can understand the concern of the parent, I worry that it’s a state of things to come – I’m guilty before I’m innocent.
When I’m out with my young niece and nephew at the playground, I love to take photos of them, but if there are lots of kids around, I put the camera away. That’s from fear of being wrongly perceived. And it’s worrying that I think that way. This fear will only get worse.
Interestingly, I also visited the Photographers’ Gallery today, where they have an exhibition by Dryden Goodwin that features images of Londoners, including a series of people on the top deck of nightbuses. He didn’t ask permission; perhaps an image of you is on the wall of a gallery somewhere? There aren’t any kids anywhere, but pictures of people shot from public spaces on public transport or in the street can be exhibited freely.
One final thought. Had that gentleman behind me been a paedophile, even if he had deleted the photo he took, undeleting it later would be exceptionally easy. But let’s face it, he almost certainly wasn’t and just thought that a photo of a child playing on a sunny autumn day might be quite nice.

TV Programme Making By Rote

Word magazine’s website has a great list of things that people find annoying – or the dumbest things in entertainment. It’s a great list, and you can’t help but nod as contributors add more and more.
Someone halfway down the list mentions half-hour TV programmes that throw-forward to the second 15 minutes just before the ad-break, then re-cap the first 15 minutes when they return from the break before summarising what’s going to happen next.
This doesn’t happen on just commercial TV either. BBC programmes have annoying habit of doing precisely the same thing, even though there’s not really a break in the programme except to trail the next section. Perhaps they do it because at some point the show will appear on UKTV Homes Style + 1, and then it’ll need it because the average viewer of that channel only watches 6 minutes a year, so needs to understand what’s happening in that 6 minutes.
Anyway, it’s become obvious that these things are terribly easy and formulaic to make. Let’s use Highland Emergency as an example. This is a Granada produced programme for Five. I’ve seen several episodes because I have a bizarre fascination for all things set in the Highlands of Scotland.
The show basically follows Scottish emergency services to various accidents and emergencies. In particular, they especially love helicopter emergencies.
The show opens with a brisk run-through of the exciting accidents and emergencies we’re going to see in this week’s episode as a teaser. Then we get the well produced opening credits with lots of helicopters and dangling winchmen.
Next we’re introduced to the crew of a particular helicopter – let’s say it’s a Royal Navy crew. They’re called to Ben Nevis or somewhere where a climber has been injured. The voiceover tells us that the person almost certainly needs immediate medical care, and that it’s a thirty minute flight to Ben Nevis. We see a graphic of a map indicating where on the Ben the injured party is lying. The crew search for and find the missing person. But it’s too dangerous to land, so someone will be winched down, although crosswinds make this treachourous…
CUT TO: A quick graphic that has a helicopter and the word emergency.
VOICEOVER: Meanwhile in Lossiemouth…
The action could just stay with the injured party on Ben Nevis, but no. In case we get bored, it instead shows us a different crew, somewhere else, who have to rescue someone who’s torn a ligament on a remote Scottish island.
The injured person is on a beach. We’re anxiously told that the crew refer to tide times. The tide’s coming in. It really is urgent!
Then we arrive on the beach, and there’s no sign of the incoming tide. Not only that, but local doctors/paramedics are on the scene. There was little danger of anyone being washed out to sea. The tide’s still so far out that the helicopter can happily land on the beach, but before they load up…
We get a preview of what happens next. We see clips we’ve already seen of the helicopter over Ben Nevis, swiftly followed by clips we’ve just seen of a helicopter landing on a beach. And because there’s no hope of stretching these two cases out through another 15 minute (well 10 minutes once you remove ads) segment, we’re told of a third case in Aviemore of someone who’s, er, twisted an ankle on a ski-run.
After the break, we get more generic graphics of helicopters and the word “emergency.” Then we return to Ben Nevis, with another resumé of the previous action, before we see that, yes, the climber was successfully hauled into the chopper. This is intercut with a few interviews of the crew basically telling us what we’ve just seen with our own eyes, and what a voiceover person has just told us.
The now familiar graphic of helicopter alongside the word emergency allows us to cut to the new story featuring a doctor who looks after injuries on a ski-run. Who’d have thought? A teenager has twisted an ankle. It hurts, and she’s cold. She’s brought back to some kind of hut where she looks sulky like any teenager – albeit one in pain. But before anything else happens…
We cut back to the person on the beach who’s very unlikely to drown. They’re loaded aboard the helicopter and returned to Aberdeen hospital where they’re treated.
One more look at the graphic and we’re back to Aviemore, where stroppy (but in pain) teenager is loaded into another ambulance and sent off to hospital.
A final graphical interlude and we see clips from all the incidents we’ve just seen, this time with some kind of special effect applied to the footage – perhaps they’re now in black and white. The voiceover tells us that each person went to hospital and what they were treated for. They all lived.
Finally we get a sneak look at next week’s programme in which some climbers are in trouble on a mountain, someone’s hurt at a ski-resort and someone has a threatening condition on a remote Scottish island.
Repeat times 13.
Of course there’s a little more to it than that. The producers tie together stories that happen at night with others than take place around the same time. The implication is always that these things are happening simultaneously, when you know perfectly well that they were probably months apart, that’s why it looks like summer in once case, but another takes place in snow covered peaks (Yes – I know that snow covers some peaks pretty much all year round). The same goes for episodes set in poor weather and so on.
Now I’m not knocking these series too much, but they really don’t add much to the sum of human knowledge, and the A to B to C editing-by-rote is just a bit sad. There’s a really good series to be made with these emergency services, but a Five budget for the 7.30pm slot (up against the soaps), is never going to be enough.