Bad-tempered rant about televisual idiocy

It’s been a bit depressing looking at what was on BBC television the evening just gone. Not because there was a load of rubbish on, because that’s normal, and as Theodore Sturgeon said, ninety percent of everything is crud (that’s a bit mean on the BBC so far as yesterday evening went – there was actually some good programming on). No, there’s been Brian Cox delivering the Royal Television Society Lecture, Science: a Challenge to TV Orthodoxy, which I’ve just missed most of because it was on BBC2 at twenty past eleven in the evening, and the entry in the Radio Times listing magazine was so tiny I didn’t see it. My daughter went to watch the recording of it in Salford last week and enjoyed it (a bit too far for me to travel to, so I’ll have to watch it on the iPlayer). Why was it on so late, especially when the presenter, Brian Cox, is someone who appeals to a wide audience (I bet RM fancies him (see below))?

The other saddening thing is to do with Ancient Worlds, which was also on BBC2, and on at 9pm which is a far more accessible time. My gripe here is not with the programme, or its timing, but the review of it in the Radio Times, the BBC’s own listings magazine:

‘If you’re lucky enough to own a head that can process stodgy, academic storytelling and fantastically wordy sentences, then you’re probably savouring Richard Miles’s series. But when the historian announces early on that Alexander the Great’s dad, King Philip II of Macedon, was, “unfettered by the parochial and claustrophobic embrace of the polis,” I had to pause the DVD and unpick my brain. This happened at least eight more times. If you ignore the verbose script, Miles is at least charming and excited by his subject. And he’s handsome. Think Peep Show’s Robert Webb (who he also sounds a lot like) but with bigger front teeth and a tan. Tonight, he talks in complicated terms about the rise of Alexander the Great and Hellenistic civilisation, without really explaining what this is. Ancient Greece, basically, but I had to double-check that on Wikipedia.’

That’s really going to make people want to watch it. Credit your audience with a little more intelligence than yourself, perhaps, ‘RM’; or perhaps, stick to reviewing Desperate Housewives and the like? Or, maybe the Radio Times editor could give programmes to reviewers who have a bit of a clue perhaps, rather than getting someone to write something that’s going to put off anyone who’s vacillating between trying Ancient Worlds and watching something else? Although they might watch it with the sound turned down so they could just letch after the presenter, I suppose.

Here’s my review of Julia Bradbury’s German Wanderlust (which was on yesterday evening and which I didn’t actually watch, but I think I’ve got the Radio Times‘s house style sorted): Julia Bradbury was trekking round Germany, and if you ignore the mentally challenging mentions of Byron, Wagner, Turner, Goethe, and the like, there’s some beautiful scenery, not least Julia herself. Definitely some wanderlust provided there, although she kept going on about the Romantic movement, whatever that is, although I’d certainly like to get Romantic with her.

I wonder if Radio Times would print it? If not I could always try the Guardian.

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6 Responses to Bad-tempered rant about televisual idiocy

  1. strangetruther says:

    I saw all three. Richard Miles is an excellent presenter for history. I’m sure I learned something from this programme, as I have from the earlier ones, and it was very absorbing. Oh yes – Ptolemy had been Alexander’s food taster; the Alexandria site was unsuitable for a city,…

    Julia Bradbury’s programme on the Rhine was great too. I think she or the producers spend too much time on her face, smiling “interestingly”.

    Brian Cox, whom I generally approve of, made the usual, I’m sorry to say, arrogant, comments by scientists, very satisfied with themselves (I’m in one of those too, incidentally) who make fun of philosophy of science while showing that they don’t understand that it isn’t a separate thing but occupies the high levels of thought across the top of all scientific fields. As Hilary Putnam says, it can be very annoying to hear people say they don’t have any time for philosophy, and then immediately follow it by expounding a brand of philosophy word for word the fashion 50 years ago. Sometimes the “fashion” is still the best we’ve got, as when Feynman insults the whole field and then comes out with a statement of pure Popperism – the finest kind of science and philosophy, my favourite in fact, but don’t tell me he didn’t pick that up in Los Alomos or later from the loads of German-speaking central European intellectuals there. He’d be doing exactly the same thing with the latest religious views 500 years ago if he lived then.

    Brian Cox used a quote from JS Mill to back up his views. So that’s another philosopher whose work he’s used and valued, while disrespecting the field.

    Haven’t downloaded the programme and transcripted it yet, but I’ll give it a thorough going-over on my blog tomorrow.

  2. strangetruther says:

    Oh yes – and I agree with your criticism of daft commentators being allowed to disparage good stuff. Too often, a judgement is made of a programme – or anything – based entirely on some kind of ‘democratic viewpoint’ where if the majority can’t appreciate it (eg because they’ve had an uncultured upbringing) it must be bad. In the case of science, it also seems to be ok to give the impression it’s ok to be proud of not being able to do it, and to be expected that others won’t be able to or won’t try, and also that it should be disparaged. In the case you mention, coming from the Radio Times itself (though not necessarily to be considered a creature of the BBC now, I understand) it seems particularly bad. The BBC has an obligation to enculture, written or unwritten.

    • bagotbooks says:

      One of my biggest fears for the future of television in the UK is the ghettoisation of programming – the BBC are still producing and broadcasting excellent things but they are either (as with the Cox lecture) put out at a ridiculous time, or shunted onto BBC4; the Royal Institution is pleased that their Christmas Lectures are back on the BBC, but they’re going to be on BBC4, which has a relatively tiny audience. They might argue that people can watch things on demand, but a few years ago it was common to hear ‘I saw a really interesting programme on TV last night – it wasn’t something I would usually have watched but it came on…’ That’s not going to happen any more.

  3. strangetruther says:

    Hard to avoid that with so many more channels. Each has to have some special identity. I believe the BBC has had a go at putting stuff from one channel onto another for a day or two.

    BTW – any chance of Mr or Mrs Bagot Books getting back to me on the email I’ve entered? There’s one or two things I’d like to pick your brains on, as you’ve got a wordpress blog, and are publishing books :-)

  4. Mrs Allen says:

    why oh why was the Huw Weldon lecture ( Brian Cox) on so late?
    I despair, so another grouch …..I switched off Iain Stewarts Scotlands landscapes at after 30 mins because of the blaring so called ‘background’ music which drowns out the voice of the narrator. This also happens on many programes including David Attenborough’s programmes. Why ??

  5. Melvyn Fellows says:

    Great to see Julia back with another interesting Walk .

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