Let me get this right. To be regarded as 'talent' on British TV, and get paid a fortune for it, you need to: wave your hands about and say 'amazing!' a lot; be thick (or pretend to like thick people); and have your teeth whitened. Err ... that's it!
Forgive me. I’ve been watching rather too much of the stuff in recent times, because I’ve been ill. Thinking about it, I’m surprised that staring at the telly for so long, with all its energy-sapping effects, didn’t finish me off.
An author I greatly admire, John Irving, rightly satirised the medium in his superb novel A Prayer for Owen Meany. One of its characters dies in front of the TV; she’s found in the morning with her cold thumb stuck on the remote-control button that’s relentlessly roaming the channels. She’s died in a hopeless search for something good to watch.
Irving comments: “At the time, in 1989, it seemed a fairly unusual way to die. Nowadays, I suspect, more and more people are dropping off that way. And we’re still looking for something good on television. We won’t find it. There is precious little on TV that can keep us awake or alive.”
In my former life as a TV critic (as Sam Brady on ITV’s ORACLE and Teletext services), I struggled to take seriously anything I watched. And I found myself despising all the luvvies and jackass presenters I met at launches.
The one question I longed to put to the TV actors I met was this: So, you dress up and pretend to be other people for a living; now where is the dignity in that? But, of course, that’s not how the industry works. I guess I wasn’t cut out to be a TV critic – but my attitude didn’t half give my reviews an edge, and the readers seemed to love them.Back then, in the ‘90s, I regarded television as a huge and sinful waste of creative energy. I still do. I’m mystified by the success of things like Strictly – camp tosh which encourages physical narcissism. Likewise, X Factor, with all its gormless caterwauling karaoke monkeys. As for Ninja Warrior UK, oh pur-lease!
The undoubted ratings success of the Great British Bake-Off was something I couldn’t really fathom. The show was harmless enough, I guess, but hardly exciting or about anything important. It’s main problem for me was Sue Perkins and her incredible innate smugness. I find her, and lots of other successful presenters, to be vexatious to my spirit, frankly.
There are new versions of trash formats coming up, apparently. Gary Barlow looking for boys to be in a musical, for instance. Arrgghh! And The Voice is back – this time on ITV. My reaction to the new series is SWF (so f***ing what!) – I won’t watch, whichever channel ‘poaches’ it.
Then there are programmes where adults simply behave like kids; whooping and cheering and having tantrums, such as on Celebrity Big Brother. The only celebrity I recognised on the current show is Angie Best, and only because I once took her for lunch to interview her, and found her to be quite charmless.
Of course, television is greatly expanded now, with masses of digital choice; catch-up stuff and all. But very little of that appeals to me. Certainly, Game of Thrones is a turn-off.
Sci-fi and the supernatural are genres particularly poorly served by contemporary TV. Doctor Who has lost the plot. Seriously, it’s plots are now incoherent. As for The OA on Netflix, it’s bonkers.
So, is there anything I will watch? Yes, I quite like Sky News, though not when Kay Burley is presenting or reporting.
I love Family Guy. Its creator, the American Seth MacFarlane, is a genius. I’m a big fan of the Gimme, Gimme, Gimme repeats. And I’m very much looking forward to watching the new series of Not Going Out. Otherwise, I’m very much in favour of going out.