Inside Television: Plinky-plonk notes in documentaries don't raise a smile


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The Independent Culture

I can't help noticing that the incidental music in television documentaries is becoming increasingly hard to differentiate from one programme to the next.

Talking off the record to a documentary director from Channel 4, it would seem that the problem is recognised within the industry. "We always complain about a certain sort of plinky-plonk music that highlights that this is a comedy moment," he tells me.

Ali Johnson, global head of music at Audio Network, a company that provides ready-made "production music" to BBC and HBO in America, confirms that there is a trend in documentaries towards what he calls "a quirky underscore".

Singing Potter's praises at last

Mad Men ended its current short run on an optimistic note – despite the sudden death of advertising firm founder Bert Cooper (Robert Morse). The final fantasy segment, in which Don Draper hallucinated a song-and-dance routine featuring his deceased business partner, was an unexpected delight.

It was also pure Dennis Potter, connecting the current golden age of American television drama to an earlier British one. Potter, especially with Pennies from Heaven and The Singing Detective, greatly influenced the leading auteurs of US drama.

Last weekend saw the 20th anniversary of Potter's death – not that you'd know it from the TV schedules of the BBC, for whom Potter created all of his masterworks. Ironically, you'll have to listen to the radio if wish to hear a tribute. Dennis Potter – with Aggressive Affection is on Radio 3 this Sunday.