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The Bowden Column

So television, eh? Last week I was away at a TV studio, the closest I’ve been to a television in all these eight weeks. A “studio” is the place where the singular noun, “lie”, becomes the plural, “TV shows”. And everyone, by law, should have to spend a day in one, firstly to see the work needed to get the light down the TV tubes in the first place. If you see fire, some poor sod’s spent a night picking which brand. There are two blokes just to help Noel Edmonds with the sudoku. If you don’t get the sheer level of artificiality, consider this: the average University Challenge team spends twenty minutes in makeup. They might look pretty, but that’s not the point: you might as well put Dictionary Corner in Britain’s Next Top Model.

But more than anything, a day in a studio lends a unique future’s-eye view of the mire into which British TV is due to plop. One room along was the Jeremy Kyle Show, filming the daily rants of the man with a near-religious conviction in the healing power of DNA. It pops up so often, you wonder if he’s on commission for DNA itself: maybe if he mentions it 80 times a show, it’ll twist him a new soul? Yet he’s so assured of his own shining righteousness, it’s a surprise he doesn’t bark his shape-up-or-kill-yourself orders to the tune of What If God Was One Of Us? If there’s a test card, it’s of him casually parting a sea.

The next day, in the same studio, it’s Don’t Forget The Lyrics!, a haunting conveyor-belt of Chardonnay-shopgirl chirping, with a format so simple – and crucially, so cheap – that it almost defies review. A song is played. Don’t forget the lyrics! If you forget, you leave. Future hits from Fucking Obvious Productions include Watch The Coin! (a half-hour heads or tails spectacular), Count The Numbers!, and Don’t Forget Your Surname!.

Two things jump out. One: the easier the targets, the simpler the narrative, the better. Because the public has no greater love than, say, hate; the only reason Kilroy Stabs Paedos stays off is because budgets won’t stretch to a penknife. That’s number two: money is a luxury we don’t have, and less money means less originality. More judgement, more anger, more Bingo Night Live. In five years, all ITV will be a 24-hour broadcast called You’re A Twat!: they’ll flash up mugshots of Joe Nobody, and we’ll race to yell a four-letter catchphrase down the phone. Text TWAT to 82299! And when they’re raking in this money, why risk a 30 Rock? A House, a Lost, a 24?

This won’t get better soon. With multichannel TV splitting the ratings, there’s less room for risks than ever. Save the rare gem, the Spookses and Doctor Whos, the UK’s forgotten how to entertain.

To conclude this term on my usual upbeat, forward-thinking note: move to America.


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