Sunday, 28 September 2008

My ten point plan to fix the telly and that

So when I write a title like that I really have ten points written down in front of me? Err, well, I've got a vague idea of a few of them. But it's a blog and you're s'posed to do it live and that, yeah?

I was just reading all the conflicting reports about public service broadcasting being broken, ITV merging regions, cutbacks at C4, times being tight at the BBC, footie fans unable to see even highlights of England matches on terrestrial telly, the ad market contracting (one forecast saying there could be £500m in ad revenue by 2020 compared to £3.2billion now - eek) etc. etc.

Woe is me, it's the end, bye-bye quality, hello gameshows when z-list celebrities have to stand in funny shapes to go through a moving wall... oh, hold on, the last thing has just happened. With Dale Winton. On BBC One. WWTI!*

Anyhoo, here is my multi-point plan to fix it all. Everything. Dead easily and that. Harldy thought-through but here we go...

Split it from the BBC to a new body that gives it to public service stuff wherever it is, run by a lean body without too much admin staff. Charge a small tax on satellite and cable subscriptions, and add that to the money pot. If the digital broadcasters make a certain %age of UK-originated programming, their channel doesn't have to pay - an incentive to invest in new things instead of repeats of Will and Grace**

Yeah, you heard me. Close it. I know it's great, and cheap, and watched by the Radio 4 listening posh people who run the country but scrap it. And do the same with More4. Both get miniscule ratings (apart from repeats from their parent channels) and cost a lot of money. Don't shut down BBC Three, just trim it a bit. Add that to the pot from (1). And then...

...set up a joint channel that shows cult-chah, except it has a somewhat nicer budget so it can commission more stuff instead of competing pointlessly. 

It costs £70m or sommit for S4C and will cost £50m or thereabouts for a Gaellic channel for Scotland (60,000 Gaellic speakers available to view). And ITV are trying to save £40m by merging huge swathes of the country to make regional news even less regional? It should be funded somehow - if it's funded by taxpayers for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, then why can't it be for England too?

Noticed how Monday night at 8pm is the ghetto for current affairs now? Panorama, Dispatches and Tonight on BBC1, C4 and ITV1. Tsk. Stop it. It makes them lazy and samey. It happens in the States with staid Sunday morning talk shows on all the networks, and the network news on at the same time everywhere. I want a choice. I also want to be able to watch all three sometimes, and even if I was all Sky+'d and iPlayer'd up it's hard.

Channel Five have just done this, cutting slightly on drama/origination to emphasize children's programmes. Hey, you know, I have an interest in this here, but it's something the public value and therefore it should be a PSB obligation. Go further. Why insist Five has to do news? What for? No-one watches it really, it's just Sky News from a different room so no diversity of content... why can't Five guarantee to invest that money into UK-originated PSB programming instead? 

Do the same with ITV and C4 too. Make C4 do children's programmes - again, self-interest as a producer declared here - but it's important to have a diverse supply. Cut them some slack elsewhere to compensate. I enjoy C4 News, am a regular viewer, but things can't be sacrosanct forever and it is just ITN with a top hat on, instead of the baseball cap they wear on ITV 1. 

More emphasis on comedy here - it is so neglected as it's hard to get right, but a good sitcom is, in my view, so much more valued than a good drama. I'm not saying scrap, say, daytime property shows and put the money into more eps of My Family, God no, but just make the Beeb invest into things the audience enjoy and ITV 1/C4/Five/Sky can't afford to do much of. The BBC Trust need to kick ass here. 

I don't mean on the thieving bastard producers who stole money from drunken students through rigged phone-ins, but the rules on, say, product placement are out of the olden days. Get rid of 'em. Does it matter that the beer in the Rovers Return is from a proper brewer not whatever madeup name they use, and ITV 1 gets more money? Of course not. If the characters turn to camera and advertise it viewers will soon switch off, so keep the regulation simple. There are plenty more stupid rules like that, some of which are going. I mean to say, why should Ofcom decide how many ad breaks Five can put in a movie? If they put too many in, again, people will switch over. Just leave 'em alone.

Make someone like C4 or BBC Three do a nightly satirical show like The Daily Show. That show is certainly doing a public service to the American voter right now and it's a disgrace we don't have one - oh they try, occasionally, but it's just not worked for years. Why can't, say, BBC Three decide to invest a sizeable amount of money into this area as it's something the market can't deliver*** 

That's just one example of being a bit more inventive with the PSB requirements than having a quota %age to hit.  

People still like and watch the telly. 20 million people still watch the two main channels when there are big event shows they like to see on them. I love the BBC but a small fraction of the billions it generates through a compulsory tax should go to ensure a diversity of supply in areas where the free market isn't allowing the commercial broadcasters any leeway. 

I got to ten in the end. And there are footnotes, like in a proper article and that. 

*Who Would've Thought It!
**Please leave the repeats of Will and Grace on. I like them.
***I can answer this one - a topical show doesn't repeat, and as BBC Three has to repeat everything a gabillion times to (in their own internal systems) justify making anything, nothing topical happens. That's why they'll make six episodes of Haha! These People Only Eat Crap! or whatever, 'cos they can show them 'til the tapes wear out.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Property shows on tv

Right now I wouldn't like to a commissioning editor in charge of the vast swathes of factual telly that consists of property shows. For at least a decade now, daytime and primetime telly has revelled in everything linked to property. From the paint-it-beige-and-make-£50K lot to Kevin McCloud and the self-builders; from auctions to makeovers to gardens, property shows are the backbone of many schedules.

And now no-one wants to know.

Oh, sure, it'll be quite a lot of fun to see Property Ladder's Sarah Beeny putting on her oh-so-sad-why-didn't-you-listen-to-me face when she tells some idiot developer that they've lost £100K. But it'll get as tedious as it did when everyone made shedloads of cash despite painting the ceiling of the living room with a homage to the Cistine Chapel and coming in 90% over budget.

The grandad of all of them, Grand Designs, is also cutting back on who they film and when, as it's taking much longer to get money and therefore do any building at all. And, to be frank, despite being a big fan of the show, there are only so many square glass boxes I can drool over.

All those improve-and-sell shows have already remodelled themselves as 'invest in making your home better to live in'. It's not that convincing though, as the makeover show's only point to me was the "now your house is worth loads more" valuation bit.

I say all this now for two reasons. Firstly, a friend went to see that Guy Ritchie movie, RocknRolla or some other such ridiculous title. He said there were hoots of laughter in the first ten seconds when some voiceover started up about how you could make so much money on property in London, it was impossible to lose. Er, yeah? Now? Surely Mr Madonna knows that isn't the case any more. Maybe changing that script cripples whatever passes for plot in his movie, I dunno.

And I watched The Price of Property, C4's new show examining why we've got to where we are. There's some annoying man who sold his flat in London and went to live in France for a bit, then came home to find he couldn't afford here any more. He sounds even less sharp than Guy Ritchie. Can't watch British telly or read UK papers or interweb sites in France, Mr Hot Shot Reporter, eh? Ooooh big shock that houses cost more than they did, innit?

Anyway, ep one was OK, but ep two was terrible. Reporter man wandered around some small village in Cornland where the locals complained about the city dwellers buying second homes for vast amounts of dosh, and the city dwellers all said how fab the locals were. They won't think that after seeing the locals whine about how they were bloodsuckers destroying their village.

Cue lots of Cornish people whining they can't afford houses, and an odd subplot with a tenant farmer saying he can't afford to buy as he only makes £300 a month from working 70 hour weeks. Hmmm. Maybe the problem isn't with the property market, it's more with your job there matey? Just a thought...

I understand why the locals were upset but they had no solution (well, apart from one builder suggesting constructing a wall to keep everyone else out of Cornwall). They talked about how the village had been a thriving fishing port, lots of shops and pubs and community spirit... but no-one said that there are very few fishing villages any more, that without the 'second homers' (made me think of The Simpsons and laugh every time this expression was used) the village would certainly have plenty of cheap housing but still no jobs or pubs or shops.

Lots of locals worked servicing these people too, and the only good part of the whole doc was when Reporter Man stumbled across some locals who made loads of money selling in the village, moved to the council estate further away and then complained their kids couldn't afford anywhere. You had to laugh when one guy admitted he owned a second home in Spain - but Demon Reporter only found out by mistake and then wandered the beautiful streets whining about property killing the village.

No it's not. The village is dying as a viable community anyway, and the only thing keeping it afloat were the views and the property. It looked perfectly horrendous to me, but I love big noisy throbbing cities and the idea of living in a little cottage overlooking the sea drives me to despair.

Anyway, it was a fairly shabby piece of television, although I do like shouting at the screen when such things are on. Oh, and then there was a very odd US sitcom about Lego gay people on E4, but even a hack like me can't make these two items flow together so I'll do that next time.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The new tv season

Yes, I'm back after a wee break trying to sort some business things out. Apologies for not gracing the blogiverse with my unthought-out streams of consciousness about all things televisual.

So it's Autumn, and the schedules are chock-a-block with new shows, returning favourites and all that. How exciting!

Have you noticed how Americanised our way of talking about tv has become? It's not a new series of something, it's a season. From the US, where they simply make 22 eps a year, repeat them over holidays and the summer, and start the new season in the fall- sorry, autumn. We haven't got quite that Yankified.

Or maybe we have.

Last night I saw someone mentioned the start on Living of the new cycle of America's Next Top Model. Now I've worked in tv and had an unhealthy obsession with American tv above all else, but I'm only vaguely aware of the phrase. I think it's because they run two series a year so they can't say season. Probably. Perhaps. Small idea: why not say series?

It all started with video then DVD boxsets - seasons became a more used word, then the cabsat channels started to say "see season 9 from the start again" as it sounded less repeat-y than saying series.

Anyway, must admit to not being that bothered about many of the new highlights. Merlin - hmmm. Looks more like Robin Hood than Dr Who to me. I'll try it out I s'pose. X Factor sneaked in at the end of the summer (as it runs for six months or something now) and so far, so far the same as ever. Great show, well made - how they've managed to keep it seeming even slightly fresh after all those endless singing eeeejits... you know, *RAISES HAT TO THEM*.

But let's look back to the US, they're boring of the endless auditions, of laughing at the tuneless morons and picking a favourite identikit karaoke muppet. It'll happen here too, some day. ITV must be quaking, although they've got Britain's Got Talent and can shoehorn Cowell into it if the other one starts to fade away.

Other Autumn treats - err, um... there's the Peter Kaye spoof of talent shows, that'll be champion I hope. New series of Mad Men, Simpsons and other top American treats. Some documentary stuff looks good - a series about money, that analysis of why British property prices have been so ridiculous manages a new spin on a tired subject, lots of new 9pm C4 shows to replace Big Brother (I managed to avoid all but twenty minutes of one show, surely a record considering the thousands of hours broadcast)

Oh, and one final not-to-do-with-Autumn-or-America-but-here-you-go thing - did anyone see BBC News at Ten last night, the day before the Cern particle wotsit was switched on? They had science guy David Shuckman (sp?) explaining how it would work, with some pretty nice CG effects showing where the big circular accelerator thing was, how deep down - so far, so Day Today but verging on OK.

But but BUT... then they had him standing next to big whooshy dubbed-on particle beams flying around and then reaching in to pick up two huge glowing balls of particles and hold them up. Er, what? This proper actual journalist was holding up his hands and having Mr CG Animator DRAW BIG SHINY THINGS ON THEM. On a NEWS programme? Utterly astonishing. It was too ridiculous to caption it 'Reconstruction' but it was a stunning piece of stupid lowest-common-denominator telly, and certainly the first time I've seen a reporter act along like that.

What next, BBC Business Editor Robert Peston gets his head bit off by a giant CG bear to indicate that stocks are in a bear market? US reporter Justin Webb dressed as a boxing referee in a ring, standing inbetween a cartoon elephant and donkey having a fight to report the presidential elections? Huw Edwards flying onto the news' set (itself virtual) on a huge 3D dragon, just because he's Welsh?

Now the last one would be cool, I admit, but come on - just have the news people GIVE US THE NEWS. I can watch it without it being illustrated in every single way. Much as I like flashy titles, good graphics and whoosh sounds, I don't need an important scientific story to be jazzed up by lying stupid animation. No-one mentioned how Cern got their 'billions' of Euros to do this, that's more important to me than pointing at the screen going "LOOK! BRIGHT SHINY LIGHTS! In that man's hands! It's the neeeeeeeeeews! Happy now?"

Errr, bit of a rant there but that's what these things are for. If you want an example of someone ranting a little bit too much, go to and listen to his latest podgram about tv compliance procedures. I love him to bits but even the godlike Mr F has got somewhat too concerned about certain tv prodedures.

I do hope he didn't spontaneously combust seeing the news last night.