Simon Kelner: What you've seen on the screen is not my scene

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The Independent Online

It was rather surprising to wake up yesterday and hear those two giants of the light entertainment world, Simon Cowell and James Naughtie, in conversation on Radio 4's Today programme. Naughtie, a classical music buff and a man for whom, you might suspect, Little Mix or One Direction do not figure large in his life, was somewhat out of his comfort zone, but he managed to extract some interesting observations from Cowell, including the insight that he was "weird" (that's Cowell, not Naughtie).

As well as finding time to denigrate the opposition – of BBC's The Voice, he said that his first thought was: "Why is this not on radio?" – Cowell justifiably took credit for bringing the nation together to watch X Factor.

He is quite right to identify this as an important aspect of our national life. The multi-platform, multi-channel media experience we have these days means that there are very few times you can walk into your workplace and be pretty sure that most people will have watched, listened to, or read the same thing as you. The result is that there is very little in the way of a national conversation, and what there is of that is largely down to Simon Cowell and his works.

At this juncture, I should point out that - like James Naughtie, I assume - I have never followed X Factor. I know I am missing out, but obviously not so much that I feel I have to watch the show. Nevertheless, you have to admit that Cowell has done more to foster a sense of shared engagement than any amount of Big Society blarney.

It is striking these days that hardly anyone watches the same thing at the same time on the same device. You may meet a fellow Mad Men addict, but you'll series link it and save it for Friday nights, while the next person will have waited for the box set and be a series behind. Then there are those who won't watch it live; they record it so they can skip through the ads. And not forgetting the iPad and laptop viewers. You can't have a discussion without someone shouting: "Don't tell me! I've not watched it yet!"

What's more, this fractured world has created a form of media one-upmanship in which the more obscure your televisual passion the better. A Scandinavian detective series? So last year. My own contribution to this movement was advocacy for an American programme called Breaking Bad in which a chemistry teacher and a junkie set up a crystal meth business. Never heard of it? Well, it's not been on British TV, but I couldn't recommend it highly enough.

However, I was trumped by a friend who told me of his love for a series that wasn't even on TV. It's called Web Therapy and it's an online show starring Lisa Kudrow from Friends as a self-interested shrink. I've watched it and I have to say: it's genius. Happy watching!