TV on Trial: I choose the future

I’ve very much enjoyed BBC Four’s TV on Trial programmes. I didn’t manage to catch much of it last week, but I’ll be trying to watch as much as I can of this week’s repeats.

It is very interesting to see how television has evolved. The winning decade was the 1970s, which I can’t complain about too much. Most of the repeats seem to come from the 1970s, with few programmes from the 1980s or 1990s ever getting shown these days, on the major channels at least.

I must defend modern television though, especially since that pompous arsehole John Humphrys was arguing against it. Humphrys’ argument against modern television news was that a reporter’s pre-recorded report would be shown and would be immediately followed by a pointless two-way in which the reporter repeats much the same thing. But that’s exactly what happens on John Humphrys’ Today programme. Humphrys complained that reality television just put people into a gladiatorial arena and saw what happened. But if you want pointless gladiatorial conflicts you need look no further than the Today programme.

People are hyper-sensitive to television dumbing down, but I don’t think it happens nearly as much as people think. Following Humphrys’ complaint about modern television’s obsession with reality television, what did they show to celebrate the 1970s winning? They showed The Family, a programme that would not look out of place in today’s schedules, and the very first reality television programme.

Just imagine what people would say if we started with the situation that we have now and went back to the situation of the 1970s, with just the three channels. People would be upset about the disappearance of the many channels that are entirely dedicated to showing factual programming: many of the UKTV channels, UKTV History in particular; the (dozens of?) Discovery Channels.

News wouldn’t be on the television nearly as much, especially with the disappearance of 24 hour news channels. People would long for the days when BBC Four was around to show arts programming and documentaries. They would ask what happened to the cutting-edge comedy output of BBC Three (okay, forget about Two Pints… and that sentence with make sense).

Of course modern television has its downsides. The old-fashioned 10 O’Clock News is always more fulfilling than any bulletin on BBC News 24. But with News 24 you can get up-to-date with the news whenever it suits you; you can watch important news events as they happen. Thanks to interactive television you can even choose — to an extent at least — which news you want to watch.

The difference between the television of the future and the television of yesterday is choice. There is nothing wrong with having hundreds of channels. It’s not a sign that people are addicted to television — it just means that viewers are no longer force-fed whatever is shown on the BBC or ITV.

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