First post in a while but that may well change. For starters I’ve unchained the shackles of Comedy Central after several years and am back out there in the real world. Glad I dived right in; the water’s just fine.
Secondly, I felt compelled to write because tonight marks the return of the adored Great British Bake Off. Now in its fourth series, that chunky, handsome man with the twinkly eyes (no, not me) and the woman who looks the evil pastor in Poltergeist 2 are back to reassure the nation that everything isn’t really that bad and we are in control; nothing calms the soul more than watching a group of people whose greatest struggle involves an inaccurately folded loaf of cholla or an overly-tart lemon drizzle cake.
I have nothing against this sort of warm cardigan telly in principal, but what I do find rather sad is that this is a prime example of an increasingly depressing trend of major broadcasters of replacing quality, thought-provoking, original and, above all, entertaining programming with what is lazy, drawn-out, quick-win and ultimately empty daytime television.
I should say, first off, that having worked in TV for a long time, I understand the squeeze programme makers currently endure. The digital revolution has diluted the water, the money is dwindling and the need to spread themselves across multi-platform outlets has seen reduced risk-taking by broadcasters in terms of the formats they commission. I understand all this; I used to see it every day.
But. Shows like this gall me because historically they would be tucked away alongside Watercolour Challenge and My First Doily in the middle of the afternoon – gentle, passive shows that brought together the pensioner and the student alike, soothing them into a soporific but beatific stupor until they go out/go to bed at about 6pm. The Great British Bake Off should not be on 8pm. At the risk of sounding like a Daily Mail article, it’s a waste of the licence fee.
Since they have made the jump to primetime, we are left with effectively 20 minutes of television cynically drawn out over an hour to fill the schedule. You just watch. Next time one of these shows is on keep an eye out for the insufferable levels of repetition in the voice over, talking heads, interviews and participants’ comments over 60 minutes. If I catch one more episode of Masterchef where we are reminded every six minutes that Gavin from Weybridge is out of his comfort zone with a fish dish I’ll build a van out of those desserts Greg Wallace loves so much and crash it through his kitchen.
I’m not saying all primetime TV should be highbrow and elitist. We do have enough channels to spread the love and there’s more than enough room for comedy, drama and documentaries that are broad and mainstream; I welcome it. I just feel (rather sentimentally I admit) that major network broadcasters should be leading from the front as they used to. Also, I just miss the craft that goes into programme making. They say a show comes together in the edit suite but these daytime-turned-primetime shows really do feel like every single shred of footage has been cobbled together just to play for time and chase ratings at the expense of well-made, stimulating entertainment.
I understand why these shows are popular. I get why people in their millions lap this stuff up. It’s gentle, it’s soothing, a balm after a hard day doing whatever it is people don’t enjoy doing on a daily basis. It’s aspirational. People doing what they love in England’s Green and Pleasant Land.
That said, television is still (for now) one of the most powerful media in the world, and there’s no reason why prime time schedules shouldn’t be used optimally to benefit the greatest number of people. We need less frothy, forgettable fare that belongs on TV during the middle of the day, and more truly engrossing dramas, uplifting comedies and inspiring documentaries the BBC and Channel 4 used to pioneer so effectively. Lastly, I also believe people will watch whatever’s put in front of them, so there’s really no excuse NOT to make it well written, well structured, well acted (where relevant) and above all actively entertaining.
Now if you excuse me, I’m off to check my Victoria Sponge hasn’t fallen over…