Robert Hanks: Abandoning the risky for the risque is a desperate ploy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

And in more breaking news, Vatican confirms that Earth moves round Sun, and government survey suggests poor people have less money. Nobody can be very surprised by the ITC's catalogue of independent television's failings – at least, nobody who actually watches the stuff. All the same, it is nice to have it made official: independent television, in its desperation to maintain audiences, is abandoning the imaginatively risky in favour of the boringly risqué.

A quick glance at the Radio Times provides ample confirmation of the present dreariness of the commercial channels: last Saturday, for example, ITV1's evening schedule began at 6pm with You've Been Framed, in which members of the public act like fools at home; this was followed by Stars in Their Eyes, in which members of the public act like celebrities, and Blind Date, in which members of the public act like fools again, only this time in a television studio. Next came Screen Tests of the Stars, in which celebrities were seen acting like fools; and After They Were Famous, in which celebrities were seen acting like members of the public.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 offered a feast of dull nostalgia: Heroes of Comedy featured an hour-long "celebration" of the "humour" of the Seventies comedian Dick Emery; and Top Ten TV – one of those "list" programmes that annoyed the ITC so much – counted down a list of the biggest camp icons, including such cultural heavyweights as Larry Grayson and Dale Winton.

To be fair, Channel 4 also offered two decent feature films; and there was little of the "observing and revealing coarse behaviour" that the ITC talked about. So far as that goes, we seem to be going through something of a lull – Ibiza Uncovered, Holiday Reps, So Graham Norton and Big Brother are all between series. But that isn't to say the ITC got it wrong: if anything, it understates the sheer trashiness of much commercial television.

The bright spot in all this is Channel 5, rightly praised for boosting its prime-time arts coverage. A cynic might point out that this boost has consisted of one series, Tim Marlow's Great Artists. But it was a decent, serious-minded series, which compares favourably with the format- and celebrity-driven frivolity of the BBC's Rolf on Art. And this summer, Channel 5 is promising a new dramatisation of a Dostoevsky novel: the ugly sister is trying hard to be a Cinderella.

But remember, the ITC only does commercial television – which is perhaps understandably panicked by plummeting advertising revenue. The other half of the picture is the BBC, which is too often a mirror-image of ITV1: its I Love... and UK's Worst... slots are every bit as mindless as anything the commercial sector can offer. Things are almost twice as bad as the ITC reckons.