Strictly Crap Television

30 October 2005

I did something I regretted last night – something I thought I grew out of a long time ago, and something which very few grown people admit to doing. Yes, I watched the BBC1 evening schedule. All the way through.

The first programme I watched was Only Fools And Horses. And not just any episode of Fools and Horses, but the episode – the one where Del Boy falls through the counter of the wine bar while pretending to be smooth. Either the BBC screen this episode every Saturday evening at 5, or I am spectacularly unlucky, because I have seen this episode a good half a dozen times, just by switching on it randomly. However, despite being repeated for the 1000th time, it was still better than what followed – it was funny and intelligently considered on wider issues. It’s quite shameful that the rest of the evening’s entertainment was still outclassed by a 15-year-old repeat.

What followed was, quite frankly, dire. The National Lottery Jet Set is a totally joyless gameshow that effectively makes the licence payer pay for a half-hour long promotion of the National Lottery. Out-take TV is a recycled version of a program that recycles the bits that weren’t good enough to make our screens in the first place. Carrie and Barry is a sitcom about absolutely nothing – just ordinary people in a house and their ordinary lives (this week, Barry tries installing damp-proofing). It’s a sitcom without any sit; in fact, as it’s not very funny, the “com” bit is also rendered unnecessary.

All of these could have been the nadir of the night’s entertainment, if it weren’t for one clear winner. Strictly Come Dancing (for starters, why the fuck did they go with that title? It makes no grammatical sense. Was a ripoff of Strictly Ballroom really the best they could come up with?) was the most appalling programme of the night. Not just the fact that it keeps a long past his best Bruce Forsyth on the screens, nor the fact that it is basically another check-the-boxes talent show (controversial judges – check, phone poll tension – check, useless underdog – check, behind-the-scenes bits- check).

No, the thing that irritates me most is, at least with Pop Idol, Fame Academy, Stars In Their Eyes and the rest, there was the chance of an unknown with talent to make it big. Not so in SCD – all the contenders are celebrities who have made it in some other way. And then they dance. Not particularly well, in most cases. Basically, people who are already famous and successful are made even more famous and successful by being mediocre at something. This is an insult to any sort of notion of fairness or reward, as well as perpetuating the lie that the ability to take part activities like ballroom dancing can be picked up quickly and learned with a few well-drilled movements, with no need for things such as talent or dedication.

Hang on, hasn’t this been going on for years? Well, yes, but usually on commercial television (e.g. Hell’s Kitchen, I’m A Celebrity…). Strictly Come Dancing, however, is a BBC programme. It does not seem fair to me to use the licence fee, ostensibly as a means of maintaining non-commercial, quality public service broadcasting, merely to reward the already rich and (moderately) famous for doing something that many not very rich and totally unfamous people with actual dancing talent could do much better. Public service entertainment should be there to showcase the best and to reward the talented, not merely feed the cult of fetishised celebritism inherent in the commercial television sector.

There was a recent proposal to reform the licence fee, to allow other broadcasters such as Channel 4 to produce licence fee-subsidised public service television. I rejected it initially, as doing so would make the converse move more acceptable – it becomes easier to justify converting or part-converting the BBC’s output to being advertising-funded. However, after watching last night’s spectacle I’ve changed my mind. As BBC1′s Saturday evening output is now no different from that of the commercial broadcasters’, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be advertising-funded. The licence fee could still remain for genuine public service broadcasting, such as news, documentaries, history, science and culture (all the bits that traditional BBC-haters would prefer to be scrapped or reformed to parrot their own political views) that could not be funded by advertising, but it can be cut down and part of the proceeds would up for grabs for other broadcasters to keep the BBC on its toes. We would still have a reasonable proportion of quality televisual output, while the ordinary licence payer is no longer obliged to pay for dance lessons for the wealthy.


12 Responses

Yes, there is far too much crap on telly these days. Only Fools is great but repeated to death. But the real question is why did you continue to watch it instead of… you know… not watching it? You could have seen what was on the other channels or watched a DVD, downloaded something more interesting or heaven forbid maybe even do something else? Surely you’re not so bored that you honestly have nothing better to do than watch the drivel that the TV churns out day upon day?

I’m all for micropayments and TV on demand. It’s the way forward.

I dislike the idea of public service money being given to other channels, mostly because I instinctively object to anything that Rupert Murdoch says. The BBC seems to be in the populist end of it’s cycle between popular and public serivce – if it was at the other end then people would start to complain that it was elitist.

I think the problem with giving public serivce money to other broadcasters is that they would then just use the money for any documentries that they would make anyway, but get free cash for it. There is another problem that the BBC is expected to pay for the switchover to digital TV using the license fee money when this should be payed for by the government.

I do think there is too much crap on BBC1, although I admit that I am a touch elitist. Maybe BBC1 should be funded with adverts (apart from current affairs and news) with BBC2 and the digital channels used to launch more interesting stuff that then goes onto BBC1 if it is popular. Then you could give a bit of money to the other channels (but not sky) to do the same thing.

The trouble is the attitude of the BBC schedulers. They are convinced to a man (and it probably is men) that anyone who isn’t out clubbing, dining, drinking or whatever on a Saturday evening is such a sad and hopeless individual that they don’t deserve to watch anything decent. Hence the perennial Casualty – you must have watched the one and only evening of the year it’s not on.

In the old days they used to regularly show some good new film in Saturday evening prime time. Not any more.

Try to read the title of Strictly Come Dancing in isolation from all the cultural references – imagine there never was a TV show called Come Dancing, there never was a movie called Strictly Ballroom. Now – isn’t there a beautiful, mysterious and gently menacing poetry in the phrase “strictly come dancing”? The dissonance between the word “strictly”, with its associations of domination, constraint and control, and the idealisations of freedom evoked by “dancing”, places the title a realm of haunting otherness. It raises questions of the interplay between romantic desire and imbalanced power relationships, of the human inateness of the longing for leadership, and the validity of the (highly topical) concept of compelling others towards freedom. I’m not a fan of the show, but I do find it pleasing that the central plank of the populist Saturday night schedules sounds like it should really be an anthology of avant-garde post-feminist poetry.

On topic, I think your distaste for SCD does your argument a disservice. It’s all a bit Pilkington Report – “Those who say they give the public what it wants begin by underestimating public taste and end by debauching it”. SCD is extraordinarily popular, after all, and to suggest that the public are somehow wrong for watching it won’t really wash. There is an argument for not using the license fee to replicate what commercial TV can do, but that can equally constrain the BBC in ways that harm its public service efforts.

I’m not saying the many millions of people who watch it are arbitrarily wrong, in any way – what’s wrong with the programme, and what change my opinion from mild boredom to active distaste, is the flinging of money and fame at people who are already famous, for something they’re not very good at. That money comes from what is effectively a regressive tax. In order to justify that regressiveness, the BBC simply cannot replicate what can be done elsewhere – it doesn’t just have to be entertaining, but innovative and open to new talent with it. Reviving an dead gameshow, giving it a nonsensical pastiche title and sprinkling celebrity glitter all over it is not up to that standard.

I used to do programme research for Channel Four, and I can vouch for Max’s claim that C4 would just take any public service money and run with whatever it was going to do anyway. C4 is obsessed with ratings, like all broadcasters (except perhaps BBC4, because they know no one’s going to watch it anyway), but also with its now-tarnished image as a hip, innovative channel. Its research was always focused not only on how could it make programmes people would want to watch in huge numbers, but also on how it could make programmes which would set a trend (they didn’t much care what trend, so long as they could steal a march on their competitors).

Anyway, I agree with the broad thrust of Chris’s post. Incidentally, Tom perhaps deliberately overlooked the many possible cultural significances of the middle word in the show’s title.

Consideration of “come” would belong to a far more stringent Marxo-Structuralist analysis.

You probably chose the wrong Saturday in the BBC schedules. After all, it has to compete against the likes of The X-Factor.

Try again in March, when the BBC puts up a (sometimes) historical, (sometimes) futuristic, defiantly British sci-fi drama against the best of ITV’s Celebrity Wrestling. And watch the BBC prove that expensive drama need not be costume-based to succeed in the minefield of Saturday night TV schedules.

David

Firstly, where’s your evidence that the celebrities are getting paid ? This show is linked to the BBC’s Children in Need fund-raising efforts, and the precedent from the first series is that the contesants were giving up their time for free. OK, some may gain an “exposure” benefit, but they get that walking out the door into the arms of Hello magazine’s paparazzi for a lot less effort.

Secondly, when the BBC did try to showcase the talents of unknowns, it flopped, viz original Come Dancing and the recent attempt to restart it. No-one could relate to the talented, competitive efforts of people who had been dancing since they were 6. You need the contrast of the good and bad celebs to learn something about the dancing.

Thirdly, the dance schools have gained massive interest from average learners who have watched the program and realised that adults with no apparent talent have got a chance of making a fair fist of it with a bit of effort and training. And this is exactly because it is made with people not known for their dancing. Any attempt to use unknowns would fail, because either the stage schools would get wind of it and pack the applicants with all the usual wannabees (see most recent Big Brother contestants for that trend), or inevitable auditions would select people with talent, and you are then back at the original Come Dancing format.

Fourthly, anybody who pays attention to the program would get the message that the celebs are not having an easy time of it, 40 hours training a week is hard work, especially fitted round other commitments, and including the risk (in some cases actuality) of injury.

Fifthly, it becomes very clear exactly how much talent and dedication has been involved in the careers of the professional dance partners. Darren, last year’s winner, has been dancing for 22 years. The program showcases their talent and contrasts it with even the best efforts of the celebrities.

Finally, who’s to say there isn’t public good in it ? If it awakens interest in dancing, especially social dancing, that encourages manners, politeness, consideration, cannot be performed drunk, is excellent exercise and a demonstrable method of increasing happiness, and that interest is converted into activity then it’s more public good than sitting on your arse on a Saturday night complaining that there isn’t anything you approve of to watch.

nert

This vaguely off topic – but can anyone remember the name of the soap opera on Ceefax/Teletext? It really was crap.

Ruth

You should have turned over and watched X Factor ;-)

I once worked with people on a CiN thing. The artists were getting paid by the BBC to appear on what was ostensibly a charity special. But of course that doesn’t matter because the point is to get the PUBLIC to donate money, of which 100% (or a very high proportion) goes to the charities. It’s your license fee that pays for the gorgeous entertainment ;-)