Monday, July 30, 2012

The Square-Eyed Couch Potato: June-July 2012

Let's start from the present day and rewind.  London 2012 is underway and for the first time we truly have TV on demand.  Now with all these extra BBC channels on satellite (25 of 'em), Freeview, the red button and the like, you really can pick and choose what you want to see.  So far, so good!

Whilst on the Olympic theme, we got some rather good Olympic-themed documentaries on the BBC.  Such as "FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER" (BBC2) and "THE RACE THAT SHOCKED THE WORLD" (BBC4) the latter told the story of the 1988 100 metres final which achieved notoriety thanks to Ben Johnson's win.  The notable thing about this programme didn't just have a load of reminiscing talking heads but the actual athletes who competed in the race.  Including Ben Johnson himself. 

I spent the bulk of July tuned into one very important TV event: the Tour de France of course.  One thing we can always rely on is the knowledgeable, entertaining and informative coverage provided by ITV4's team: Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, Gary Imlach, Ned Boulting and Chris Boardman.  I hope they all stay together for many, many more years to come.  One major achievement this year was getting the final stages of Le Tour onto ITV1, our main commercial terrestrial channel, and bringing it to a whole new audience.  This was in no small part due to a certain Bradley Wiggins of course, but how good would it be if we got a prime-time evening highlights show on ITV1 in 2013?  I think the answer to that one would be 'dream on'...

Because the schedules are filled with soaps, boring feature-length cop dramas and endless talent shows.  I would usually avoid the latter on ITV like the plague, but I decided to give "SUPERSTAR" a go.  This was the latest in a long line of Lord Lloyd-Webber's publicity stunts talent searches, this time to find the leading actor in the new arena tour of "Jesus Christ Superstar".  So far so good: after all, my love of  "Any Dream Will Do" was well-documented in the early days of this blog, and I also enjoyed his other shows on a similar theme.  Yet there are certain specific differences between BBC and ITV talent shows.  "The Voice" didn't work on the Beeb, and from the very little I saw of it, the Lloyd-Webber format didn't transfer so well to ITV either.  After about three nights I completely lost interest.  The talent show format is now very stale indeed, and every new series is like another dead horse being flogged in front of our eyes.

I would rather be watching a good documentary on BBC4.  Something like "HITLER, STALIN AND MR JONES" for example.  The best documentaries tell a tale that's never (or rarely) been told.  In this case, the story of a Welsh 1930s investigative journalist who exposed life under Stalin and lost his life whilst getting his final scoop in Mongolia.  A journalist with (some dubious) friends in high places but killed at 29, disowned as a casualty of political skullduggery.  He may have just known too much....was his murder all it seemed, or an act of revenge?

Unfortunately the more populist documentaries these days seem to stick to a particular formula.  Which is, well-known name 'gives back'.  In this case, "GORDON BEHIND BARS" and "THELMA'S GYPSY GIRLS" (both Channel 4) in which Gordon Ramsay decided to singlehandedly turn round the lives of prisoners in HMP Brixton, wave his magic wand and voila!  The Bad Boys Bakery was born, saving the world one treacle slice at a time.  As for Thelma Madine, she who is the maker of those big fat dresses in "Big Fat Gypsy Weddings" she decided to singlehandedly turn around the lives of a group of teenage travellers by teaching them to sew the dresses that they'll inevitably be wearing in a year or two before being consigned to the usual life of drudgery.  Saving the world, one diamante at a time, when they're not aiming insults and aggression at each other, that is.  It all seems a little too "staged" and you will have guessed that we're very sceptical about it all.  Still watching the shows though....

One documentary maker who is at the beginning of her career is BBC3's Stacey Dooley, who in "COMING HERE SOON: STACEY DOOLEY INVESTIGATES" looked at how the recession has affected Greece, Ireland and Japan.  She may have a simplistic and goofy style, yet she has a warm persona which exudes humanity and empathy which is absent in many of today's plastic TV hosts.  Dooley's style is perhaps a little too over-emotive at present, but she seems to suit that BBC3 demographic just fine right now.  It will be interesting to see where she goes from here, and whether she can break out of the teen-TV ghetto.

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