If I Ruled The Airwaves

in which Jim Allen, LWT's Controller of Factual Programmes, has his own way with the tv schedule
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The Independent Online
ADMITTEDLY IT doesn't look good. My dream schedule, drawn from factual programmes, is complete. I've checked it over and I still can't find any trace of the docu-soap that's helping to pay our wages at the moment.

Don't get me wrong; I've no problem with the genre. Docu-soaps are enjoyable to make and fun to watch. But are they really classic examples of TV art?

So, with Driving School consigned to the litter bin of history, I'd open the evening's entertainment with Channel 4's The Impossible Job, which ultimately revolved around just one decision: the England football coach Graham Taylor thought it was a cracking idea to wear a radio-mike while sitting on the bench. An hour's documentary later, "Do I not like that" was a national catch-phrase, Phil Neal was revealed suffering from repetitive speech syndrome (Taylor: "This is made for Wrighty." Slight pause. Neal: "This is made for Wrighty") and most football fans realised that little indeed divided their inane mutterings from those of our beloved football gurus. Forget some of those heavy-handed current affairs investigations; this was a genuine expose.

As Graham troops off to catcalls of "Resign, Turnip-head", the mood of the evening changes. From the BBC comes 14 Days in May, a documentary with the power to move us, enrage us and change the way we think.

This is the story of one Death Row prisoner's final days, and its impact was immense. Its message (or the one I took from it) remains with me. It's a good test for the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade - watch this, then muster a coherent and moral argument in favour of capital punishment.

Half-way though the evening, I feel a spot of crime coming on. Ignoring quickly the arguments that there's already too much crime on the box, I'm slotting in ITV's Flying Squad, one of the first and best of its type. This is a selection for programme makers like me who have spent endless hours sitting in stationary police vans with cheery sergeants saying, "It's not normally this quiet - you'll have to come out more often." Flying Squad had the patience and resources to wait, and when the Sweeney took on south London's finest blaggers and the guns started blazing, they were there. Outstanding access, well-told narratives, restrained narration and genuine insight.

Next, ITV's Katie and Eilish, an extraordinary film that told the heartrending story of a decision to separate Siamese twins. The family were remarkable, their story tragic but inspiring. While being well shot and edited, the film ignored a contrived visual style as easily as it avoided sentimentality. The death of one of the twins was handled with dignity, compassion and restraint.

And as we slip towards close-down and the regulators are safely tucked up in their beds, my impartiality vanishes. With apologies to Sky viewers who have seen it all before, Ibiza Uncovered is LWT's cult documentary hit of last summer - please don't be taken in by pale imitations. Raw and wonderfully compelling, it's the work of a group of young film-makers armed with DV cameras and a desire to capture the excitement and sheer excess of holidaying in the clubbers' paradise of Ibiza.

Unashamed of its portrayal of sex, drugs and rave, its success owed as much to its characters, story lines and wit as to the bare bottom and breast count - though of course that helped.

We're off air and I suddenly feel proud that there's been a whole night of factual programming without one of those meaningless shots of people standing silently outside their homes, gawping straight into camera. If you've no idea what I'm talking about, watch TV tonight. I promise it won't be long before you are treated to this infuriating documentary cliche. And yes, I've done it too.

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