Tuesday, 9 March 2010

When did British television go down the tubes?

When did British television go down the tubes? We still do a good documentary and costume drama but television production in the UK doesn't come close to the boast I heard when growing up – “Britain has the best television in the world.”
We can still sell mass entertainment formats around the globe, which are either little more than talent shows for the 21st century or celebrity reality programmes. The pursuit of the family audience means nothing that could challenge a child’s brain has any value.
Currently British TV companies seem to be digging around for new game show formulas. They must have seen that the property and cookery seam has been mined to exhaustion.
But where are our Mad Men, Flash Forward, True Blood, Nurse Jackie, Hung, Damages, 24 Hours, Heroes, House and the list goes on. Life’s too short to be locked in to any of these shows but when I channel hop and land on one I know my intelligence won’t be insulted. The plots will be strong, even the minor characters will be developed, and the production values high. This is popular entertainment at its best. The best we have offer is Dr. Who.
I stumbled across The Good Wife last night. I’d bracket it with Medium and The Mentalist. Something about a woman lawyer whose husband’s in jail – I didn’t need to see the whole series from the off to recognise a competent production.
I’m not talking about quality acts like The Sopranos or even The Wire – when it comes to crime series any one of the CSI franchise will be worth a look. A repeat of Friends or the Simpsons has more laughs than any current two UK comedy shows put together.
Simon Cowell is no Lord Lew Grade. Long departed from the television scene, Michael Grade uncle’s film reputation was sunk by Raise the Titanic. “It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic,” he joked bravely at the time.
But his television roll-call remains impressive to this day. The Saint, Danger Man, The Prisoner (see picture above), Jesus of Nazareth and for the kids Thunderbirds and The Muppet Show. Grade had a knack of putting the money together with the talent to produce TV programmes and first-rate entertainment enjoyed by audiences around the world.

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