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In a recent episode of The Pod Delusion, Mark Thompson spoke about the good old days when ITV was still a federation of regional television stations. He outlined how, in England and Wales over the past ten or fifteen years, ITV’s regional diversity has given way to a bland umbrella brand.
But not all of the nooks on the ITV network have succumbed to the juggernaut. Four of the ITV regions are still independently owned, and three avoid using the ITV brand. In the Channel Islands, Channel Television still owns the franchise, even though it uses ITV1 branding. But in Northern Ireland, viewers are greeted by idents for UTV. And where I live, in Scotland, the two ITV regions operate as STV.
I can say with authority, given that I live here, that the reality of regional broadcasting on Channel 3 is not quite as rosy as Mark Thompson would like to remember. It certainly is not as quaint and charming as the ITV we remember from our youth — and, incidentally, it was delightful to hear the idents and jingles during Mark’s report.
Sadly, STV is a bit of a basket case. Apparently strapped for cash, for the past year or two it has been embroiled in a dispute with ITV plc that has only served to disadvantage viewers. ITV is trying to gain money that has been allegedly been owed by STV for over ten years. Meanwhile, STV is dropping as many ITV programmes as it can get away with in an apparent attempt to stop owing any more money.
This means that many of the ITV network’s most popular drama programmes have been dropped by STV. This has left Scottish viewers with no options if they want to watch some of the best British commercial television programmes.
Publicly, STV say this is all a brave stance for regional broadcasting in Scotland. That does not really explain why most of the replacements have been cheap imports, films and repeats. As amusing as South Park may be, it is not exactly an adequate replacement for the likes of Kingdom. Incidentally, South Park is seemingly supposed to count as Scottish programming because, in the words of STV director of broadcast services Bobby Hain, it is “mischievous and cheeky… just like the Scottish people.”
Bobby Hain often singles out Al Murray for particular criticism. He reckons that Scots cannot relate to a comedy cockney landlord, forgetting that there is in fact nothing Scots enjoy more than laughing at English stereotypes.
This strategy certainly is not being done for the benefit of the Scottish people. We can tell this because the ratings have largely fallen through the floor. Infamously, STV once ditched Agatha Christie’s Marple in favour of the film Blue Crush — because crap surfing movies set in Hawaii are really Scottish, right? It was a disaster for STV. You could almost have squeezed the viewers into a large football stadium. With just 6% of Scottish television viewers watching it, this made it the least watched of the five main channels in Scotland.
STV have recently broadcast Fitz, the woeful 1990s American remake of Cracker. Presumably they have done this because it is supposed to count as Scottish, despite the fact that it is American. In fact, Fitz more accurately describes what STV viewers go through when they realise that their favourite programme has been replaced by a low budget michty-me, jings, crivvens and help ma boab bag of shite.
Because when STV are showing “regional” programming, it is a parochial embarrassment. One of the programmes it’s pushing most is The Hour. Imagine a cross between The One Show and Live From Studio Five, with a twentieth of the budget and presented from a shed. That barely describes the horror.
In the evenings, STV broadcasts STV Casino. This is the sort of gambling programme I railed against in a previous edition of The Pod Delusion.
More ambitiously, STV sought to find out the Greatest Scot. Among the nominees for the title was John Logie Baird, the inventor of the television. What Logie Baird can’t have foreseen was that his compatriots would be unable to watch anything decent on it.
Soon enough, STV will run out of “Scottish” topics to make programmes about. What next? The History of the Word ‘Outwith‘? Barry Ferguson’s Greatest V-Signs? Susan Boyle’s Ten Favourite Ditches?
Maybe there will be a celebration of the Scots language and / or dialect, with a version of Countdown played in the Scots tongue. Sadly, the only exciting action would be a Buckfast-fuelled brawl surrounding the precise spelling of words like ‘airse’ (‘erse’?) and ‘bawbag’ (‘ba’bag’?).
This new found love for “local” programming really is rich coming from STV. This is a station that, just a few years ago, would do anything to avoid showing locally produced programmes. It transparently sought to meet its quota of regional programmes with cynical late-night repeats of Weir’s Way and extra editions of Scotland Today Interpreted For The Deaf.
This all makes me wonder just what the ‘S’ in STV stands for. Is it ‘Scottish’? Or is it ‘stultifying’? ‘Stupid’? ‘Sellotape’? In fact, I think it’s probably ‘shite’.
Mark Thompson’s idea is a nice one, but is based on a rose-tinted view rather than the reality we Scots have to live with just now. It is true that something needs to change in order for ITV to survive. But the solution to that is surely obvious when you think about it — they should bring back Blockbusters.