Armando Ianucci: Television still depends on a good story well told

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The Independent Online

In television, what happens, happens, and no matter what people say and do to make it happen differently, it doesn't. That's it. No one has the ability to draw a line under anything, no matter how much money and effort they put into trying.

For example, we've been told that Queengate is behind us. The TV industry is clean again. People have been punished. There are no more editorial tricks, and a root-and-branch review of editorial standards has been set in motion, so that never, ever, never again will editorial distortion ever have a place on our national TV screen.

But look at last Monday's coverage of the Chinese Olympic hope Liu Xiang pulling out of the men's 110m hurdles because of injury. Just after the race, we saw events in one order. Liu Xiang was seen earlier kicking a mat in frustration. He then went on to the track, but withdrew once he realised he couldn't go on. On the BBC's Ten O'Clock News several hours later, the race is quietly re-edited to make it look like he's kicking the mat on the way out. The laws of time are bent, millions of pounds spent on editorial bootcamps and Truth and Values waterboarding sessions are rendered unto dust, and once again, the British Television Industry comes crashing to its knees.

In fact, though, I find this quite encouraging. It's so easy to throw your hands up in despair if TV is going through a phase you don't like that you can forget that the basics never go away.

We will always cock-up. We will never get our house in order. Because, thankfully, it's human beings that make television programmes and thankfully, too, it's human beings that watch them. And human beings are illogical and irrational and unfair.

Trying to predict the curious, Brownian motion of public taste and opinion is as pointless as trying to dissect a puddle. If we feel it's our job to react to every shift in public whim, then we'll lose sight of the fact they've placed an enormous expectation on us to prove them wrong, to surprise them with programmes.

And the fact is, that in television, the perennials rather than the trends are what challenge us the most and keep us watching. The good story well told, the event recorded well and commentated upon expertly, the funniest show. Everything else – who they're for; how they've to look; what sort of music should be at the start; or into what mind-bogglingly tiny lozenge the credits are to be crushed at the end – all these are just trends.

Like Bill Oddie, they come and go with the seasons. Every now and then someone comes along and says the golden age of TV is over. Those glorious days in the 70s, the days of Come Dancing and Dr Who and The Banana Splits is over and we will not see their like again. And then we see their likes again.

Taken from the Alternative MacTaggart speech at the Edinbugh TV Festival 2008