I am quite a fan of Freeview. Even though I hardly ever watch any television these days, I think it is so wonderful to have that kind of choice fairly hassle-free for £20-odd. There have been quite a lot of changes to Freeview recently.
First came the unexpected and abrupt death of ABC1. It wasn’t a bad channel, but it always seemed like there was something that didn’t quite work about it. When it launched there were no adverts for months — so how was it funded? Then there was the distinct lack of space on prime-time on Freeview, which essentially made ABC1 a daytime-only channel.
ABC1’s schedule was therefore restricted to rather tame American comedies. The same ones. Over and over again. What’s more, they did that odd thing that digital channels sometimes do, of showing the episodes seemingly in random order. This was especially problematic for 8 Simple Rules. One minute John Ritter was dead, the next he had come back to life! And then he was dead again.
In a way this was a good thing though, because you knew what you were getting. Unchallenging, homely television. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I imagine that if ABC1 was around ten years ago, I would have loved watching it on the days when I was off sick from school.
Then came Virgin 1, which is Virgin Media’s latest little stone thrown in their big bear fight with BSkyB. “Oh, they think they’re so smart having a channel called Sky One,” some Virgin Media big-wig probably said on day. “We’ll show them! We can have Virgin 1.”
So, Ftn has been killed to death just when it was getting good. I loved Ftn in its later days. Its repeats of retro gameshows like The Crystal Maze, The Krypton Factor and Bullseye were strangely captivating. Then later at night there was always Takeshi’s Castle if you were up for vegetating a bit. While it was always Freeview’s worst channel, in the past year or so it had carved out a distinctive identity for itself.
The new channel, on the other hand, does not have a distinctive flavour. In fact, it is almost as if they looked at Sky One and decided “we want a programme like that, a programme like that, and a programme like that.”
In short, it is like a watered-down version of Channel Five. Do we really need another channel full of sub-standard American imports? I think not. I would have thought that, especially with the Virgin brand attached to it, they would have put a bit more effort in to make it more distinctive.
Then this week there was the launch of Dave. Dave is essentially a re-branding of UKTV G2, so it’s good to know they’ve gone from one silly name to another. A lot of people are going on about what a great name Dave is for a channel, but I think it is quite silly. They say that it’s based on the idea that “everyone knows a bloke called Dave”, which is true. The problem is that whenever I hear the name I think of that balloon-faced Conservative leader.
As for the programming it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Watching Dave is like being transported back to the 1990s. Have I Got News For You, Red Dwarf and Bottom are among its roster. Essentially, Dave seems to me like BBC Two 2. It’s the channel that BBC Three secretly wishes it could be, if only it could be unleashed from all of those quotas to do with repeats.
Then there is Never Mind the Buzzcocks. I can’t stand watching it, at least when it was hosted by Mark Lamarr. He seems like a genuinely spiteful person. He tells nasty jokes about people, which I don’t mind usually. But Mark Lamarr doesn’t seem to tell them in the sense of “I’m only having a laugh”. He seems to be genuinely nasty. I can’t stand watching it. For a further insight into the dark world of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, check out this blog post by Adam Buxton.
But without a doubt the worst programme on Dave is A Question of Sport. Why does this programme still exist, even in repeat form? It is just diabolical.
Fortunately, this crime is outweighed by the repeats of Whose Line is it Anyway. Now, why is Whose Line is it Anyway not on any more, huh?
Despite the patchy output, the launch of Dave on Freeview seems to add a lot of value. It is replacing UKTV Bright Ideas, which I doubt will be missed by many people. The hours for UKTV History have been cut back, which might not be very popular. But let’s face it. Everyone knows that history channels only ever get ratings if they either
- Show programmes that are nothing to do with history
- Dedicate their entire schedule to programmes about Adolf Hitler’s second cousin twice removed’s hairdresser’s pet ostrich.