Written by TV

Time Team and Channel 4

Today saw the final regular Time Team of the current – and last series. There are a couple of specials in the next two weeks, as well as the odd special in the future. But that was the last of the regular three day digs that Time Team has been doing for the last twenty years.
What a shame that Channel 4 managed to screw up its broadcast so royally. Crufts highlights meant that it was shunted into the middle of the afternoon. And then they ran it with sign language in vision – something they’ve never done in a first run before. All broadcasters have to run a certain amount of signing in their programming and rightly so. But they all use it on repeat runs of programmes, usually either in the early morning or overnight when viewers are expected to record it.
I can’t imagine another broadcaster finishing a long run of one of its landmark programmes in quite such a feeble manner.
Now to be fair to Channel 4, twenty years is a good run. I still think they’re missing a trick – particularly when they had enormous success digging up Richard III recently (not branded Time Team, but presented by a bloke from Horrible Histories. I suppose that’s a bit like picking Baldrick in the first place). So history can still pull in the ratings, although they’re certainly not going to be able to dig up thirteen monarchs a year for the next few years.
After a pretty woeful recent history, I’d say that some things are improving at the channel. They’ve definitely upped their drama game with programmes like Utopia and Black Mirror. They’ve also finally pensioned off the well past its sell-by date Shameless.
But factual programming is still far too “by the numbers.” Every show they make has to be summarised in its title. And there are too many fairly tawdry and tacky shows that’d quite easily sit on Channel 5.
It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it feels like programme makers know exactly what’s expected and they turn it in. That means that there’s very little creativity on show.
Here’s a list of factual programming on offer this week between 8pm and 11pm
Embarrassing Bodies
Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA
Supersize v Superskinny
16 Kids and Counting
Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners
One Born Every Minute
Britain’s Secret Shoppers
Born to be Different
Meteor Strike (rpt from last week)
Stephen Fry: Gadget Man (rpt)
What a largely depressing and uninspiring list.
With the exception of Dispatches, I can’t actually see a single thing there that I would in any way be interested in watching. Born to be Different might be of interest, but I’m unconvinced. And far too many of these series are ongoing series – or are certainly hoped to be. I’d prefer some series that are 4 or 6 parts about something. Not series that the channel hopes will run for years.
I know that they don’t have the resources of the BBC or ITV, but it’s the subject matter as much as anything. It’s undemanding, lowest common denominator. I suppose we can be thankful that there’s nearly no property programmes.
I think the channel also needs to work harder at comedy. It’s a personal thing, but Derek really doesn’t do it for me. It’s been reordered though I notice. After a great run during the Paralympics they’ve got The Last Leg back, but it’s poorly scheduled. It’s effectively a talk show, and they’re running it right before another talk show, which itself runs up against, another talk show. If this was the US, then that’d be understandable. But those three talk shows are about the only regular ones on TV if you don’t count The One Show. There are at least a few irons in the fire for comedy, so perhaps it’s worth persevering.
The channel is becoming a bit more reliant on films, although they’re not the sort of films you’d have expected to see once upon a time. They probably need to up their game on US imports though. They have Homeland (ludicrous though it became in the second series), but everyone else seems to be beating the channel picking up anything halfway. Why didn’t they ever show Breaking Bad? Or Justified? ITV has snapped up The Americans, which would fit. And sadly for Channel 4, Girls would have been an excellent fit for the channel, helping that show get some kind of cut through in the UK – Sky Atlantic just doesn’t let that happen.
With BBC Two shifting The Review Show to a monthly format on BBC Four, Channel 4 could easily make room for something similar. It’d be incredibly cheap too. And look what ITV has in The Agenda, which is pretty decent and must cost hardly anything. Go for broke – bring back After Dark!
The recent drama run is enough to make me think things are improving. But letting Time Team end in such a flat way is poor.