Gill Hudson on Broadcasting

It's not how you watch TV that matters, but whether it's any good
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The Independent Online

I don't know about you, but I'm bored. In fact, not just bored, but bothered and bewildered, too (although, sadly, not bewitched).

I should not be bored. I am, after all, working in an always dynamic industry, and at the most explosive dynamic time period in its history, with astonishing opportunities opening up that, even a couple of years ago, would have seemed unimaginable. But as - ping! - news of yet another more and still more technological marvel hits my inbox, I'm beginning to wish the world would maybe get just a little less expansive.

It is indeed remarkable that I will soon be able to download a page of my magazine on to my forearm so I can read it in the bath. In that case, it's only a matter of time - 48 hours at this rate - before I can also sit in the bath and watch television programmes downloaded on to my big toe as I prop it up on the tap. I am reliably informed that I will shortly be able to see programmes superimposed on to my contact lenses in what would appear to be a breakthrough in the double-glazing world. This is the true Martini culture: where I can download anything I want on to anything I like. The message? The whole world is my medium. Lucky old me.

I'm not, in case you were wondering, from the "What was wrong with two channels and my black-and-white-set?" brigade. On the magazine I edit, Radio Times, we've happily been pioneering away for years, launching satellites from the mothership so that now you can access the magazine online, or via your mobile, PDA, or EPG (electronic programme guide) as well as the printed page itself. If you want to watch any time, any place, anywhere, then you need to be able to access our programme info any time, any place, anywhere too. This much makes sense.

But after yet another conference, with yet another panel of tech heads enthusing about the prospect of being able to watch TV on your car bonnet/mascara wand/soles of the shoes of the person opposite (and I can't decide whether to point out here that I've yet to see a woman on any of these panels), I turned to the woman (ha!) sitting next to me, and we sighed, raised our eyebrows, and behind our hands whispered the unsayable: "We don't bloody well care".

There. Said it.

You know what I do care about? I care far more about what I see than how I see it. You can offer me the chance to download super-hyper-HD programmes on to the sculpted buttocks of a dozen naked Adonises if you like but if there's not something I want to watch in the first place, then I'd rather take the dog for a walk instead.

I'm mighty suspicious of a world that's desperate to prove it's down with the kids on all things new tech. Desperate, because the generation that's now old enough and experienced enough to be running the show is realising that most of the stuff it learned on the way up is totally redundant (and I speak as one who remembers producing magazines with the help of men at printers using tweezers to lift pieces of type ready for setting). Yet here we are, supposedly in charge of this brave new media world and pretty damn clueless about where it's all going but daren't admit it because we might look a bit past it.

So praise be for one supergeek who, having delivered the techiest speech in the barely known universe, went on to suggest that the real challenge now for the media world is for the geeks to go back to basics and remember how to be human. You can innovate all you like, but human nature stays remarkably consistent. Lose sight of that and you lose sight of your audience.

So let's hear it for the true undersung hero of the broadcast world: compelling content. For there is nothing like compelling content for meeting a basic human need: a sense of belonging, the communal feel of watching top drama or entertainment that you can talk about the next day. Be as sniffy as you like, but TV still drops dollops on every other art form when it comes to getting the nation talking. It's the great conversational glue that sticks us all together. No telly, no comment.

* DOWN WITH the kids? I'd rather be down with my audience, thanks. And I can say with some confidence that, while RT readers may have fleeting nostalgia for the days when they changed channels by remote rather than thoughtwaves, I guarantee that their eyes light up at the memories of programmes that made them feel and think and react. Try these for starters - now, or coming soon. Tomorrow's nostalgia today? The upcoming (and final) Prime Suspect, which our TV editor, Alison Graham, describes as "stop-you-in-your-tracks, drama of the year". Robbie Coltrane as Fitz, back for a one-off Cracker; the rise and rise of Billie Piper in Ruby in the Smoke; or Russell T Davies' triumphant Doctor Who and his new baby, Torchwood. Great classics, imaginatively revived - Jane Eyre, Robin Hood, and a feast of Jane Austen.

Memories are made of these, not bandwidths, bundles or incitements to "press the red button". I don't care when, where or how. The fact is, I'll be watching. And I bet you will be too.

Gill Hudson is the editor of 'Radio Times'

Why clothes maketh the television presenters

Can a format survive the loss of its trademark presenters? Impossible to imagine BBC1's What Not To Wear without the excoriations of Trinny and Susannah, whose victims were routinely prodded, poked and given the closest TV's yet come to an on-screen gynaecological investigation before being turned into fashion swans.

Or is it?

It might just be that the loss of T&S was a timely bit of intervention from the TV talent gods. For a start, it takes a very bad presenter to ruin a very good format. And WNTW is a very good format indeed.

And then there's since been a modest little gem from Channel 4 called How to Look Good Naked, presented by the winsome Gok Wan. Now Gok Wan did something a bit different. He was actually rather nice to the people who appeared on his programme, and, in the process, generated the distinct sound of a genre moving on. If they're not terribly careful, T&S could find themselves looking so last season.

So as Lisa Butcher and Mica Paris are faced with the task of filling T&S's impeccable shoes, here's my advice. Don't, whatever you do, try to Do What They Did. It will be dire. We will all grimace horribly, bitch about you the next day, and not tune in again. Do what Larry Grayson did when he took over the seemingly irreplaceable Bruce Forsyth on The Generation Game - he was Larry Grayson, not Bruce Forsyth. Like your guests, find a style that suits you and stick to it. The format will do all the rest.

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