A place of politics, culture (!!) & random subjects from Airstrip One. Noel hopes it will be of interest and/or use to all sorts of voyagers in cyberspace!

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The Voice Of 40-Something Cynical Optimism!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Phew!)

One consequence of the extremely good weather we've had for weeks is that I didn't see as much of the World Cup as I would have liked to. There were a few very good games which I missed, but at the same time there were some rubbish matches (always are every tournament) and I would have resented watching an awful game when I could have been in the park getting browner.

I don't have a TV in my flat. To be honest, apart from the World Cup I can't say I miss having a TV. I did read a survey in the paper a few months back saying that "the young" (basically anyone less than 25) are giving up the goggle box for the internet (I read something in Canada last summer along the same lines and my limited viewing of Canadian TV makes me very sympathetic towards young Canadians swapping TV for the Net!). I'd rather look at something interesting on the Net than anything on the TV. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic here, but perhaps the only TV that will really survive the challenge of the Net is the good stuff: good comedy, good documentaries, good drama etc...and the World Cup.

Something worth subscribing to on the Net is The Friday Thing, which is sent out as an e-mail every Friday (quelle surprise!). Basically it's a quite witty commentary on current politics & culture, and I like this piece from a few weeks back on how dire ITV, the main commercial channel here, is these days.


'And now on ITV1, in place of tonight's John Pilger-fronted
condemnation of government Middle-Eastern policy, Ant and Dec
present Emmerdale Coronation Heartbeat Love Island. Starring
David Jason. Forever.'

Poor ITV.

And poor the viewing public.

The observant amongst you, i.e. the small percentage of our
readership that switches their PC off every now and then for an
evening of hellish boredom in front of the idiot box, may have
noticed that British commercial television is in crisis. A crisis
they'd rather not talk about, pointing gamely to huge soap
ratings, claiming that everything is peachy, just as long as
another Saturday night hit rolls along.

Around the edges, though, it's all looking frayed. They're skint.

If you stay up late enough, you will find ITV's night-time
schedule devoted to 'ITV Play', a dreadful, brain-melting quiz
show that's chewing up bandwidth on digital television. A true
cash cow, once-principled public service broadcaster Channel Four
is also on the bandwagon, cunningly allowing punters to pay for
the programming, a quid a go.

You might also notice that kids' programming on ITV is
disappearing, just as fast as Ofcom slashes public service
requirements. These days, World Cup notwithstanding, children
arrive home from school just in time to catch the end of their
programmes, in lieu of something dreadful from the archives and
the delights of Joe Pasquale. Or, they could switch to the CITV
channel, but nobody ever does. Fred Dinenage died for nothing, on
a weekly basis.

The problem ITV has with kids' TV is a simple one. It costs
money, for very little return. They would much rather repeat
'Heartbeat' ad nauseam, as it does at least guarantee advertiser
income, than innovative children's content, where sales are
limited. Public service or not, unless they fashion a hit of
'Teletubbies' proportions, childrens' TV just doesn't make
business sense. A digital channel, on the other hand, might,
simply because repeat fees are minuscule.

The digital explosion means that the market is spread ever
thinner. Why watch a single episode of a pisspoor cartoon import
on ITV when they're wall-to-wall elsewhere? Then there's
Internet, computer games, mobile video-on-demand, real life.
Children, after all these years, really have switched off their
TV sets and gone and done something less boring instead. In our
day, the only alternative to 'Magpie' we had were pages 200-230
of the Great Universal catalogue.

Speaking at a recent get-together for industry bigwigs, grande
fromage followed chief executive saying that the only way to
survive this increasingly cut-throat environment is to make and
broadcast your own high-quality content. ITV, trying to save a
£100 million shortfall, is doing exactly the opposite, closing
in-house production, to the despair of writers, production staff
and ultimately, viewers. In an ideal world, then, they would have
continued making half-decent programmes, and not pissed £120
million up the wall on Friends Reunited.

Friends Reunited. What were they thinking? If we had 120 million
burning a hole in our pocket, we would have spent it on something
useful, such as 12 billion penny chews, or Burkina Faso. We would
not, except perhaps for stalky purposes, have bought a database
of virtually every adult in the UK, who having discovered that
everybody else in their class is now married and 'really enjoying
myself in the world of industrial plastic's!', never logs back
in, ever again. It's like buying the entire works of Ron Jeremy
on DVD, and trying to explain it to the wife as you sneak it into
the house:

'What's that under your arm?'

'Errr... nothing.'

'No, no... you can't fool me, there's something hidden under
your coat.'

'OK, I own up. But it was a bargain, and really, really

'How much?'

'mumble mumble 120 million mumble...'

'Oh God. You've bought Friends Reunited, haven't you? Why
can't you just buy porn like normal people?'


'Sorry? It's too late now. What are we going to do with it?
You realise we can't simply make a programme about C-list
celebrities getting their old school-mates together, saying
through gritted teeth how great they are whilst building a new
sports pavilion?'

'Why not?'

'Because we're already doing it. And it's shit.'


'I don't suppose you can get our money back?'

'Bloke inna pub.'

So: entire programme budget gone on shonky web investments, and
there's only so much Ant and Dec the public can take before
there's a baying hate mob at the doors and their prize asset is
hanging upside-down from a lamp post. Here's hoping.

The whole debacle is made worse by government dithering on a junk
food advertising ban. Of course, this is first-order state
nannying, having created the moral panic of TV-bound fat kids
watching Spongebob eased between adverts for Turkey Twizzlers and
Chocolate-flavoured lard, they're now coming to our rescue to Ban
This Immoral Filth. As CITV exists solely from high-fat, added-
sugar income, they might as well give up when this well-meaning
but knee-jerk ban finally happens. So they will, and personal
responsibility dies another death.

Wheels are already in motion, with government quietly weighing
and measuring every eleven-year-old in the country - without
parental consent, we might add - to produce the statistics they
need to prove that we are breeding a nation of blobs. There are,
of course, just as many fat adults as fat kids, but there's no
rush to follow up 'Jamie's School Dinners' with 'Jamie's Pub
Lunches Followed By Six Pints Of Vodka and the World's Biggest

Gone will be original drama for teens, and home-produced,
imaginative educational programmes for pre-schoolers. That's
business, kids. If only they made programmes that reflected these
harsh realities:

- 'My Parents Are Accountants'
- 'Sesame Wall Street'
- 'Rent-a-Groat'
- 'Tracy Broker'

Still, we all get to blame fat-tongued Jamie Oliver, which, in
the short term, is fine by us.

And don't get us started on the BBC.

BTW has there EVER been a decent ITV sit-com? (Anyone who suggests "Never The Twain" will get 500 pieces of spam in their inbox per day until the day they die...)


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