A man from Virgin Media came yesterday and fitted me with a Tivo box. Whilst looking through the instructions, I was told that if it froze or got stuck, it would need rebooting. My feeling, wading through the TV schedules in the UK these days, is that it’s not the Tivo box that needs a reboot, but television itself. Somehow, since virtually every home has gained (to some degree) a multitude of extra channels, the main ones seems to rely more and more on tried and tested programmes, and tried and tested formulas.
While I can understand to a certain degree that people gain pleasure from watching those two-hour police dramas that move at a slower pace than the Lord of the Rings films, just how long can and should they go on for before something new comes along to take their place? I shall be brutally honest, I blame “Morse” for everything. After all, he was the one who started the now endlessly-recycled idea of a miserable old git taking 120 minutes (and at least 50 advert breaks) to solve a remarkably dull murder-mystery littered with remarkably dull characters. When Morse got killed off in the final episode, I gave something of a silent cheer…while my Mother mourned.
But the death of Morse wasn’t the death of Morse. Lo and behold, ITV came up with the idea of “Lewis” to cheer us all up with more of the same, and then we were treated to “Endeavour” which “entralls” us with the early adventures of Morse. I am awaiting the announcement of a new series in which Morse’s spirit helps solves mysteries that baffle any policeman with a cheerful disposition and a relatively normal family life.
And Morse simply opened the floodgates for likes of “Frost” and “Midsomer Murders” – the latter now having waded through some fifteen series. Even “Foyle’s War” couldn’t be allowed to finish with the end of the war – instead it wanders on in repetitive fashion with people watching possibly more through habit than enjoyment. Likewise, ITV have insisted on continuing with their awful “Marple” series long after they ran out of actual Marple stories to destroy with their ridiculous adaptations. Now they transplant the old busybody in mysteries where she doesn’t belong at all. Agatha Christie must be turning in her grave.
This rant is somewhat caused by the receipt of next week’s Radio Times, which tells me that the highlight of the week (aside from Dr Who, which the magazine is obsessed with) is a new episode of Jonathan Creek. Jonathan Creek? Surely that’s the only programme in the world with more final episodes than “Only Fools and Horses?” It seems to have been farewell-ing for over a decade. We are also told in RT that Have I Got News For You is back for a 45th series. That’s more series than “Casualty”, and I really thought nothing had been around for longer than that (a mere 27 series, in case you were wondering). And yes, I know that BBC4 is “thrilling” audiences with various new crime dramas from mainland Europe – but surely these are just Morse/Lewis/Foyle/Midsomer with added subtitles.
ITV2 and ITV3 are even worse. ITV3 should be renamed the “Poirot and Lewis” channel, as they appear to show little else. And this is something I fail to understand. With thousands of programmes in the vaults, the same 100 or so 2-hour dramas are just recycled endlessly – and still manage to receive 1.5 million viewers on a regular basis. Is television so awful – and are we so easily please – that we watch murder mysteries we last saw a month ago?
Of course, it’s not just dour murder mysteries than are recycled. Since the success of Bargain Hunt, our daytime schedules are littered with antiques programmes. And since the success of Pop Idol we have been treated to around 300 series of X Factor/Britain’s Got Talent/The Voice/Fame Academy/Popstar to Operastar. These are all enjoyable in their way – but they get less and less enjoyable with each series. At what point exactly will the entire TV viewing public shout at their TV set “ENOUGH! I CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE!” There is, after all, less repetition when watching the BBC News channel, which shows us the same reports every hour.
What would I like in the place of these stalwarts? I have no idea, and the problem seems to be that those in charge of the schedules don’t have much idea either. Ideas and formats are always going to be recycled, but early evening viewing on BBC1 (centred around Casualty) seems to look the same now as it did 25 years ago, and eventually something has to give. Surely a new schedule that avoids hospitals and police-dramas would be bliss?
On the plus side, the last of the Poirot books are being filmed as we speak, and so David Suchet will have to give up his impersonation of the Belgian detective at that point, after 14 series. Unless, of course, ITV decides to transplant the character into a set of stories where he doesn’t belong at all…