The cathode-ray nipple

The week on television
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Sharon Stone disclosed on Ruby Wax Meets... (BBC1, Mon) that she prefers to date men who "wrestle with reality". Presumably your jaw gave the floor an almighty thwack at that point too. You were still wondering what on earth the phrase meant when Stone popped up later that night on Film 97 (BBC1, Mon), in a location report from the Golden Globes. There she was, on the arm of a man whose other arm, just out of shot, was doubtless trying to lock reality into a triple Nelson.

A reporter from behind the crash barrier asked Stone what she thought of the Globes. "I just love them," she drooled. "They gave me one!" (Her phrase; no one else's). She knew they had given her one because last year she went home after the ceremony and actually saw them giving her one on television. Television, she told Wax, "is what makes it real for me". Maybe that's all wrestling with reality is: sitting on your sofa and watching passively as television processes and packages the mess of experience. In which case, it's a non-contact sport that calls for even lower reserves of fitness than snooker.

The idea that television has an active role in validating the world it contains is less subversive than it used to be. "Television is reality," claimed the Marshall McLuhan figure in David Cronenburg's Videodrome (BBC2, Sun). That was a horror film made as recently as 1982, but you'd never scare anyone with the concept in 1997, when real-life stories are sifted and sorted into presentable narratives more routinely than ever before.

Tony Bullimore's escape from a watery grave was topped and tailed and told in Tony Bullimore: The Great Survivor (BBC1, last Fri, repeated Sat). The story was extracted from the yachtsman by Martin Bashir, who's getting quite a reputation for doing sensitive interviews with the traumatised. With its neat quotations from the news bulletins, it could not have been more lucidly presented. Like the disastrous British Army expedition to the Malaysian jungle, it will now leap through the various hoops television throws in the way of tales of derring-do it hasn't had the audacity to make up. Straight after the rescue comes the rapid-response interview, followed by the documentary, and finally the drama, each less raw and immediate than the last.

Place of the Dead (ITV, Sun) came two years after the 999 Special on the same subject, three days before Return to Place of the Dead (ITV, Tues). All three purported to tell the truth, to reconstruct reality, but with the demands of their own genre to obey there were discrepancies between fact and "faction". The leeches, for example, that sucked the blood of the soldiers in the drama were notably plumper than the ones in the documentary. As with the insufferable bore in Harry Enfield and Chums (BBC1, Tues) whose anecdote about some tedious mishap strayed ever further from the facts every time he repeated it, retelling induces swelling. The close-up of one plump leech gorging on a soldier's flesh was a tidy metaphor for television's parasitic relationship with the entire expedition.

While Place of the Dead dramatised their escape, Return to Place of the Dead followed two of the survivors back into the heart of darkness. One of them went back specifically to locate the valedictory video he'd made for his son when he thought he was going to die. Fancy that: a film about recovering a film; the hunt for the validating video. Place of the Dead, meanwhile, included a risible dream sequence in which one of the NCOs writhed in a rock pool with his wife. She was draped in a diaphanous wet shirt, no doubt because the film-makers had wrestled with the reality of primetime broadcasting that says give the viewers what they want.

The preposterous Hollywood Lovers (ITV, Wed) focused on the phenomenon of the trophy bride. Not a single man would put his head above the parapet and defend the despicable practice of trading in sagging old wives for sleeker younger designs. In fact, the only man prepared to discuss matrimony in Tinseltown at all was an old guy who dresses up as a woman. At least he was still in his first marriage, but then it would be doubly hypocritical of an old man who dresses up as an old woman to seek a prettier replacement. But he'd be an ideal catch for Sharon Stone, because no one wrestles with reality as profoundly as a transvestite.

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