“The truth is this: the more television there is, the less any of it matters.” These words were barked by Jeremy Paxman in his recent Edinburgh TV festival keynote speech, and to some extent he’s right – the more digital, multichannel TV copulates, breeds and spawns, the more difficult it is to understand how or why these channels exist.
Some argue that Sky and cable, and now internet-based TV, give us more and more choice, and de-centralises the TV monopolies that once sat pretty at the top of the terrestrial tree. But there’s one lingering odour that wafts from the 300-odd channels that are now available to us – the more there is, the less likely I am to stay in one particular place. I never seem to sit and watch programmes all the way through these days, knowing as I do (or at least thinking I know) that there’s plenty of other stuff on, on another channel. But do you know what? There never is.
With multichannel budgets the way they are (ie. pretty miniscule), it’s unlikely to find really good, homegrown drama on any multichannel. The best channel in the ether for this is BBC Four – overall, an excellent channel and so, so much better than BBC Three (which, for all its promises, fails to deliver in the same way an asthmatic, rheumatoid postman does). There has been a lot of debate recently as to whether the BBC’s extra channels are really worth the money, and I tend to fall on ‘no, they’re not’ side of things. I never watch BBC Three, ever, and to me it’s a poor excuse for a channel, while BBC Four, one of my favourite multichannels, could well pump most of its best programmes into the BBC Two schedule to really blow away the competition.
I would advocate a sort of BBC Extra channel, so music events like Glasto, and even some sport, or those wildlife special events the Beeb does so well, could run over into it.
For really good drama, you need to go to FX. It’s very underrated in my opinion, and carries things like The Wire, Brotherhood and the terrific Dexter. FX is a fine advertisement for multichannel TV and boasts the kind of must-see shows some of the terrestrials would kill for.
Apart from that there are repeats, and lots of them.
This is what multichannel does really, really well, dedicating, as it can, to decades of top-quality sporting coverage and analysis – so much more than any terrestrial channel can. And with Setanta now on board, Sky isn’t having it all its own way, although it’s still the best place to catch lives sports.
BBC Three tries with comedy, but I really do think it over-relies on the overrated sketch show/comedy character/catchphrase format, which is already becoming tired and, frankly, boring.
There are plenty of repeat channels out there, so there always a comforting episode of Only Fools and Horses or Porridge or a Doctor Who to make you realise what you’re missing, but some repeat channels have taken the bold move to re-package these shows into something new and watchable. New versions of Wogan, Jim’ll Fix It and, soon, The Generation Game breath new life into repeat TV.
Nature and Lifestyle
If the BBC is King of all nature TV (and rightly so), multichannel has a plethora of nature and history channels that are really, really good. This area is one of multichannel’s real strengths, and with the advent of HD TV, the likes of Discovery, History Channel and National Geographic score top marks.
There’s also a really good food channel, and just about any lifestyle you can think of is represented well on multichannel (apart from The Puncture Repair Channel).
News is also well served, but I have to agree with people like Alistair Campbell and Tony Blair on this one – this mini-TV micro climate breeds massive competition and you do get the impression that these channels will come up with anything to fill the time and to be more sensational than its rivals.
This is where Paxman’s argument really comes into effect – for every good channel there’s some utter tummy rubbish. There are too many late-night, boobs-out channels that rely on text-maniac, oily-palmed young men, while you have to ask who and why channels like BEN (and others that come and go with extreme frequency on the EPG) exist and what they actually contribute to our TV landscape.
On the whole, good. At its best, multichannel TV should be able to put the willies up the terrestrial channels, but all to frequently, and despite the huge number of channels out there… there’s still, very rarely, anything on.
This teacher is always wary of this gang that hangs around the school gates, and tries to bully the students in class. Of course, teacher knows that not all of this multichannel gang is bad, but some of them – the ones that smoke, have fights and indulge in various states of uncalled-for sexual activity behind the bike sheds – are bad news.
The teacher calls for other members of staff to keep a close watch on this unruly gang, and nurture the ones who are serious about learning and contributing to school culture.
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