Why oh why do they do that?

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
ONE: Everybody knows the basic principle of broadcasting. A signal is transmitted from the radio or the television station to a receiver in the listener or viewer's home, car, wherever. Why, then, does every presenter on radio or television always open with "Welcome to the programme . . . series . . . studio?'' Don't they know, as we do, that they're coming to us, not us to them? Don't they know, when their programme has given way to a commercial break, that it is they who have been gone, not us?

Instead of "Welcome back'', it should be "Thank you for having us back''.

Jonathan Dimbleby, whose connections among the highest in the land suggest he should know better, compounds this curious convention with a gross breach of etiquette when chairing Any Questions? on Radio 4 each week. His regular introduction is "Welcome to [say] Wigston Parva.'' Not only am I resolutely untransported to Wigston Parva but as usual in my kitchen in Crouch End to which Mr Dimbleby's fellow-travellers are being broadcast, but Mr Dimbleby, who is spokesman for the guests, should rather be proposing the vote of thanks to the denizens of Wigston Parva, not assuming a host's role. Tsk tsk!

TWO: Why do television professionals, who of all people have the correct terminology as well as the jargon in their heads, yet describe the process of recording on videotape on light-weight outside broadcast cameras as "filming''?

The respective technology and production process of film and tape are still distinct, if in some details convergent, and the end results are nearly always discernibly different. Is some hieratic snobbery about film still lingering in television?

THREE: Why do newsreaders interview reporters who are employed by the same organisation? When newsreaders interview political representatives and other public figures, as they also though less often do, their questions are presumed to be probing and evenawkward. Such would be self-defeating in an interview with a reporter who wants to get through an agenda and not be gratuitously wrong-footed. So all the newsreader is doing is a pre-arranged cueing of the various points the reporter wants to make. Is this some kind of contractual deal to boost the amount of talk allotted to the newsreaders? If so, no wonder they always dismiss the reporter with a heart-felt "Kate [or whoever], thank you very much'', otherwise inexplicably fulsome when the reporters are just doing their job.

While I'm at it, why do television location reports always contain a brief sequence of to-camera address near the end? Is this because reporters' agents insist on appearances by their clients in order to raise their profiles? If so, the news organisations should put the needs of their reporting (which is often poorly served by jarring to-camera inserts) ahead of the vanity of their reporters.

FOUR: Why do MPs and other public figures allow themselves to be persuaded to be videotaped (or, as the reporters would say, "filmed'') striding purposefully past the camera, only to jump disorientatingly back into frame in close-up when they begin talking. In the entire history of television news, no one has ever been been doing a "walk-by'' of this kind without looking entirely like a self-conscious, wooden, two-left-footed prat.

FIVE: Why does silent archive footage always have to be tickled up with a sound-track? It is evidently axiomatic in factual television that film can never be left in an innocent, track-free state, despite the impact of the naked image. So a few effects are tacked on, comprehensive sound-creation being too expensive and time-consuming, and the result is always phoney.

SIX: Why do paintings, photographs and other illustrations of a still character always have to be explored by the notoriously-often credited rostrum camera of Mr Ken Norse (and others less ubiquitous)? It would be a novelty to have the opportunity to seeany kind of unanimated depiction that was actually framed or cropped exactly as the creator of the image intended.

SEVEN: Why do situation comedy producers allow studio laughter to get so out of hand that it makes some of the lines impossible for the viewer to hear? We might anyway query the necessity for proxy laughter in sitcom - its lack in the cinema doesn't prevent film comedies being successful. There is clearly an argument for live reaction helping the performers and creating a responsive studio atmosphere. But the argument founders if sitcom is increasingly using filmed or pre-recorded material and then showing it to audiences in order to have authentic reaction to add to the soundtrack. That's when obliteration of lines occurs, when actors are recorded or filmed without an audience and cannot gauge how much "gap'' to leave for laughs. The result is as self-mutilating as it is deplorable.

EIGHT: Why, whenever we see a dog in a teledrama (or a feature film, come to that), do we get barking on the soundtrack, even when the animal's jaws are unmistakably clenched shut?

NINE: Why do link-people talk over the end-credits? Viewers who require to be told that "next week's episode will be at the slightly earlier time of 9.40'' must be vanishingly few.

The notion that the audience will change channels in droves unless threatened with the imminence of Good Fortune! as soon as the play-out music of Tomorrow's World strikes up is a double-edged sword at best. A lot of work goes into roller-captions (I've a graphic-designer friend) and some viewers like to hear out the signature tune of a programme, others tape to keep and don't want the irrelevant context forever appended.

TEN: Why does radio frequently carry trails for television programmes and television almost never reciprocate, even though most of its "new'' programming now derives from radio?

ELEVEN: Why does the studio audience on You've Been Framed always laugh at someone falling over, when even the slowest among them must have twigged fairly early in the proceedings that they wouldn't be seeing the clip unless the featured person did indeed fall over or collide with something? Or perhaps I am asking: why is schadenfreude so central to contemporary British television?

TWELVE: Why do weather forecasters on BBC, ITV and radio use the same ridiculous cliches? "As we go into Friday'' is as awkward and mystifying a locution as "the bulk of the country'' is ugly and vague. But listen out and most days you'll hear both on the wireless and the box. Top favourite is the image of weather "pushing'' across the country. It might be rain that "pushes'' or a front or isobars. Not that we're ever vouchsafed what is being pushed or how.

You don't have to watch impersonators doing Ian McCaskill to convince yourself that these metaphor-mad meteorologists are a race apart. I remember one of them making his last radio appearance. He devoted almost the whole forecast to a tour d'horizon of Britain's weather during the 17 years of his broadcasting career. Self-important? Or just too much sun?

Well, on behalf of all of us here at the Independent, I'll wish you a very good morning and a whole new year of viewing and listening.

Comments