PARIS DAYS ; French TV zapped by the trash barons

I can date precisely the moment I decided Paris was a hardship post. It was a Saturday at around 5.30pm (or 4.30pm in Britain). I was listening to the BBC World Service coverage of the third round of the FA Cup. Fifteen minutes before the end of the commentary game, and the round-up of final scores, a smug, schoolmistressy voice, announced (with a tone of sadistic glee): "We are now going over to the world news in German..." Panic.

I located the signal from Radio Five Live, fighting to be heard on the medium wave above Radio Sofia and an Italian Euro-pop station. Like a member of the Resistance precariously tuned into coded wartime announcements from London, I decrypted the football scores, flat on the floor, ear pressed to a spluttering radio.

Paris has its compensations, but they are not audio-visual. The scandal of Saturday afternoons is compounded by the unsatisfactory situation on the television on Saturday evenings. And on Sunday evenings, Monday evenings, Tuesday evenings, Wednesday evenings ...

We signed upfor cable television, which offers 30 choices plus six pay- as-you-view channels. I was never much of a telly addict in Britain but began watching avidly in Paris, hoping to improve my French and my knowledge of France. I had been told the advent of cable, and privatisation of the principal television station, TFI, had improved quality and variety.

Not a bit of it. In a recent poll, 64 per cent of French people said they had experienced physical illness after watching television, through tedium or fury at being taken for abruti (cretins); 66 per cent said television insulted their intelligence, compared to 36 per cent 10 years ago. Question: has French television got more stupid - or viewers more intelligent?

Here is a typical night's trawl through the Parisian cable menu. Zap. TFI, sinking in popularity but still watched by a third of viewers, is showing a dubbed American B-grade film from the 1980s, Cherie, J'ai retreci les gosses (Honey, I've Shrunk the Kids). Zap. State-owned France 2 has a pedestrian game-show in which contestants guess the names of old French songs.

Zap. Canal Jimmy is showing Fawlty Towers, dubbed. Basil "Il ne faut pas parler de la guerre" Fawlty emerges bizarrely in his French spoken persona as a rather sedate man. Zap. On the Animal Channel, hyenas are eating wildebeest, in washed-out, dubbed BBC footage from the 1960s.

Zap. Arte, the arts channel, watched by 1 per cent of viewers, has an implacably obscure German documentary on post-war refugees, with occasionally visible French sub-titles.

Zap. State-owned France 3 has one of the bookish talking- heads shows which drive foreigners crazy. A reverential interviewer is taking the author through his latest work, with the book open in front of him. The assumption seems to be that viewers will also have the book open in front of them.

Zap. BBC Prime, a disappointing mish-mash of old and ancient BBC drama and sit-coms, is showing I, Claudius (circa 1970). BBC1, still available in Brussels, was abolished in France a few years ago for a tangle of BBC copyright and French regulatory reasons. Zap. The Animal Channel again. Hyenas are now eating zebras.

There is no shortage of rubbish on British television. But where, one asks, is the French version of Our Friends in the North, or House of Cards, or Ballykissangel or even EastEnders? France still has an inventive cinema, a thriving literature. Its television, for all the posturing about the need to defend France from American teleculture, is a creative wasteland.

Coverage of news and current affairs is solid enough, much less domestically obsessed than British television and more willing to give complex subjects room to breathe. But there is a curious obsession, indoors and outdoors, with enormous, obsolete, hand-held microphones, wielded sensuously like ice creams or phallic symbols.

Why is French television so bad? Professionals and commentators offer a mixture of reasons. Lack of funding. Overregulation (films are banned before 11pm on Saturdays to encourage people to go the cinema). There were too many years of government control of too few channels; then there was a flood of cable channels all at once, mostly under-resourced, or seeking a quick profit.

None of this solves the mystery. This is an intelligent, inventive, culturally sophisticated, discriminating nation - which refuses to tolerate second-rate wine, second-rate green beans or second-rate trousers. Why does it create, and tolerate, second-rate television?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders