Monday, 2 May 2011

A place to think.

Oh BBC Four, how I love you. I can leave you on over the course of a weekend evening and whilst I may at first be wary of what you want to show me, I know I'll feel all the better for it afterwards.

In the case of this weekend it was Spiral, followed by a Top of the Pops from 1976, and then a documentary about something that escapes me, but something good nonetheless.

But as the tendency to find the glass half-empty tends to prevail when following these trains of thought, I couldn't help but think to myself why a schedule as varied and high quality as this was banished to BBC Four like the wayward pretentious cousin who needs to be kept separate from the rest of the family. Admittedly, Dave Lee Travis portraying a post-Smarties binge Bill Oddie won't be to everyone's taste, but isn't that half the fun?

Looking at BBC 1 and 2's plan for the next couple of months seems like a who's who of 'safe gritty drama' to ensure they look like they're still on the cutting edge, but I couldn't help but feel distinctly underwhelmed.

"But look! John Simm, Jim Broadbent AND Alzheimer's! And if that wasn't enough, we've got another thing, with David Tennant no less!" It's starting to feel like saying you would like to see something other than the aforementioned usual suspects is tantamount to blasphemy against the BBC and all it stands for. But in reality, it's a relatively easy way for them to keep piloting new dramas without the hassle of 'risk'.

It would be wrong to be overly pessimistic and treat this as a threat, when in fact BBC Four has presented a golden opportunity as a testing ground for more 'niche' programming, (if that's even the appropriate phrase to use). Surely now the time has come to start trusting instincts?

There's the argument that with the rise of Freeview, that the vast majority of viewers now have access to BBC Four. But when taking into account viewing habits, there will always be that tendency to stick with the terrestrial two channels, because of the (not unreasonable) assumption that the variety and quality will be there if anywhere. Therefore the problem arises when it becomes more and more clear that that's not really the case.

There are a large number of series which have been aired on BBC Four, only moving over to One and Two long after their initial success, if at all. It took two series of The Thick of It before they moved it over, madness considering its instant popularity and the reputation of Armando Iannucci at the helm. Five years of Screenwipe and latterly Newswipe, and still no move in sight, aside from the odd repeat on BBC2, which in itself is a pretty backward way of doing things. BBC2 getting BBC4's sloppy seconds? Sad but true.

And to think in 2005 Jerry Springer: The Opera aired on BBC2 despite 55,000 complaints and a street protest. I can't imagine that happening now, only six years later. Did they get their fingers burned for showing the determination to broadcast something that caused such polarised opinion?

My main concern is that as programmes such as The Apprentice rear their head once more, I'm reminded that this year doesn't feel much different to last year, and the year before, etc. All we have to look forward to is a couple of reality shows, a handful of costume dramas, something Northern, something borrowed, and Doctor Who.

BBC Four's (wisely) dropped tagline was 'Everyone needs a place to think'. I agree with the sentiment. But not all of us know where to look.


  1. JS: The Op was broadcast on BBC Two, not One. Though I can only agree with everything else you've said.

  2. Thanks, corrected now. Must have been wishful thinking letting me get carried away.

  3. (Also: boo. Blogger's commenting system removed the geektastic way I'd put a disclaimer about hating myself a bit for being so bloody pedantic into html tags, with an end result of making me look a bit annoying and patronising. Gah.)