We have come a long way since John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of the television more than 80 years ago. We now have plasma screens, hundreds of channels and maybe soon TV- on-demand. TV has created a lot of antagonism too as it’s supposed to be undermining our society. Also with the rise of the Internet TV is facing a lot of new challenges.
Television gets blamed for a lot of things- making us stupid, obesity, violence and degrading language. Recently we have had the CSI effect. Apparently because of the aforementioned show and its spin-offs juries are reluctant to convict unless presented with gee-whiz physical evidence even if there is strong evidence against the defendant. And according to recent research on 30000 people, during the period between 1975 and 2006, conducted by John Robinson and Steven Martin from the State University of Maryland, people who are not satisfied with their lives, spend 30% more time watching TV than satisfied people do.
The big trend of the last decade has been the explosion of reality TV, which features ordinary people in unscripted dramatic or humorous situations. In fact this genre has existed in some form or another since the early years of television, Candid Camera was one such example, the term has really entered public consciousness since 2000. Of course, they are not quite so spontaneous; they often have storyboards and shooting scripts, important tools for shaping the direction of the show. They look to create conflicts between the contestants. Wikipedia has the following typology of these programmes:
There are at least two television channels dedicated exclusively to reality television – Fox Reality in the United States and Zone Reality in the UK. Personally I don’t see the attraction of watching reality shows – I find them artificial and cringe inducing.
Of course there is a lot of dross on the box. That doesn’t really bother me. There are some people who feel nostalgia for the days when there were one or two channels and television was supposed to be some kind of common experience. I think that this is. We can be our own programme schedulers.
The role of public television should be vital. It is clear that if I were a shareholder of Antenna 3 here in Spain, I would not be happy if they were showing documentaries about Babylonian astronomy. Their obligation is to make money for their shareholders. That is why I do believe in a public role the question is the size of that involvement. I don’t see the point in doing programmes featuring celebrities dancing. The private sector is perfectly capable of providing such output. I love the BBC, but I do sometimes feel that it is gargantuan. Perhaps we would be well off with something a bit more modest. The public should concentrate on doing what the private sector won’t do.
I feel alienated by Hollywood’s current output. Television in the United States has undergone a revolution. Now the best scriptwriters are working for TV after years of being badly treated in the movie world. Shows such as The Wire, Mad Men, and The Sopranos make far more interesting viewing than many films for spectator with a mental age of seven. What I have always liked about TV, as opposed to the movies, is that you establish a relationship with the characters. I much prefer to watch a TV adaptation of a book. In a film you don’t have enough time to capture the story with television you can do 11 or 12 hours. TV is not really good or bad – it depends what you watch. It’s up to us to demand better programmes.