Robert Hampton

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22nd March 2013

Ogle the Goggle Box

BBC Television CentreI always like to think of myself as someone who doesn’t watch much TV, apart from the odd highbrow drama on BBC4, of course. However, on reviewing my blogs of times past, it’s clear that television has been a big inspiration for blog entries over the years.

The TV I discuss isn’t always high-minded, either. One of the earliest television related entries came in the wake of a massive brawl in the Big Brother House in 2004:

Sorry to go all Daily Mail on people, but BB really is the most reprehensible, morally bankrupt thing on TV. I hope the police investigation results in prosecutions against all the Channel 4 executives involved in putting this vile show on the air.

Good grief, that show pisses me off.

While on the subject of reality TV, let’s skip ahead chronologically and get this embarrassing post out of the way right now:

I’m going to come out and say it: Hooray for good old-fashioned Light Entertainment bollocks on ITV1! Britain’s Got Talent was actually fairly entertaining.

What was I thinking? In my defence, this was before I found out how cynically produced the whole thing is.

A much more pleasant show to watch is Frasier, so I was sad to see the show come to an end:

I think Frasier will stand the test of time much better than that other recently-ended American sitcom. Friends, with its reliance on 90s pop culture and “cool” dialogue (like… you know, whatever), will be irrelevant within 10 years. Whereas Frasier never tried to be cool, just funny, and was all the better for it.

Not sure whether that prediction has come to pass, with Friends filling up every spare timeslot on Comedy Central while Frasier is relegated to the lesser Comedy Central Extra. But I still think it’s a million times better.

Jerry Springer: The Opera occupied my thoughts in 2005. I, of course, failed to be offended by it at all, although fifty thousand Daily Mail readers did complain and were summarily dismissed. One thing I didn’t pick up on at the time was the exposure it would give to the UK’s fledgling equivalent to America’s Religious Right. Stephen Green’s “Christian Voice” was a prominent critic of the show, and the boost to his profile meant that he would be a strident voice on “moral values” in the future.

2005 was a tale of two sci-fi shows. Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled, ending an 18-year run for Trek spinoffs on television. At the same time, Doctor Who was in the ascendancy, with first series of the revived show garnering rave reviews from all corners, including from myself. Surely they wouldn’t ruin it by introducing a load of “story arcs” that I don’t care about?

Other new TV shows fared less well, such as Harry Hill’s kids show, Shark Infested Custard, which I eagerly anticipated:

The regular features on Shark Infested Custard will include “Meet the Johnsons”, where any family named Johnson can have 10 seconds of fame; “Speed Camera Boy”, about a boy who is half speed camera, and “Gary’s Week”, starring Hill’s fictional layabout son from his first marriage.

This is already shaping up to be the best thing ITV have ever broadcast at any time in their 50-year history.

The show appeared in the midst of CITV’s mid-noughties doldrums, when nobody at ITV gave a toss about kids’ TV. As a result, it made no impression and fizzled out.

I managed to get hopelessly addicted to Desperate Housewives. The first season was genuinely fun and exciting, subsequent seasons less so, possibly because they wrote Jesse Metcalfe the shirtless gardener off the series. Although Teri Hatcher being a bit ditzy is always fun.

The end of the world preoccupied many people, and the BBC did its bit to reassure people, with a docudrama called “End Day”:

Thanks to BBC Three’s unique brand of factual programming, I now know what a dangerous strangelet is. How many people could have said that before tonight?

This is interesting now only because it featured an early TV appearance by the now-ubiquitous Professor Brian Cox.

2006 saw two sad endings: first Dick and Dom hung up their muck-muck buckets, then a few months later Denis Norden announced his retirement. He always brought a touch of class to clips of Coronation Street actors corpsing, and I miss his clipboard on It’ll Be Alright on the Night.

2006 was the year of High School Musical mania, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the original Disney Channel TV movie is actually quite good. Never mind the sequels, which I was never interested enough to actually watch.

A seismic event came in 2007 when Neighbours moved to Channel Five after over 20 years on the Beeb (unfortunately the YouTube clip, a heartfelt tribute montage to the Kennedy family’s dead chicken, is no longer available). I had become hooked on the show around this time, thanks to ludicrous storylines involving Ringo being anorexic for a week, Bree Timmins ghostwriting a novel for her mum, and CamRob Robinson the identical twins, one of whom was a murderous serial killer. Sadly, not even Dr Karl could cure the fact that the show has now become terminally boring, and I no longer watch it.

An earthquake hit in 2007, as Terry Wogan quit Eurovision, in protest at the bloc voting and dominance of Eastern European countries. I did some number-crunching to prove him wrong, but he didn’t listen… or know I existed.

Eurovision may have lost its iconic voice, but the gays couldn’t stay sad for too long. We were well-catered for by Beautiful People, which won me over with a winning combination of 90s nostalgia and camp comedy. And it’s the perfect excuse to embed this video again:

Exciting news came in 2009 as ITV revived classic game show The Krypton Factor. I wasn’t ecstatic about the remake. It was very competently done, but as I noted at the time: “This is Gordon’s show”. Yes, basically I wanted it to be exactly the same as it was last time.

ITV’s output elsewhere was less inspiring:

With Gene Hunt talking in a cod-American accent, Christian Cooke spending half the episode wandering around without a top on, and monster makeup seemingly obtained from the Albanian version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Demons could well be 2009?s early contender for best “trashy yet strangely compelling” telly programme.

Unsurprisingly, despite Christian Cooke’s nipples, the show failed to be recommissioned. Cooke next showed up in ITV2’s ludicrous drama series Trinity, where he went one better by appearing fully nude. Not that I keep track of that sort of thing. Ahem.

2009 was the year of Susan Boyle, who became an Internet phenomenon thanks to her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. I was more interested in ITV’s response to the viral phenomenon:

Well, one thing I’ve learned is that ITV still apparently has no clue how to use the Internet. The YouTube video linked to above is rocketing towards 30 million views and has been shown on television all over the place — but it’s a ropey, off-air recording (in the wrong aspect ratio!) of Britain’s Got Talent. Why haven’t ITV capitalised on the worldwide interest by having the pirated clips removed and uploading an “official” version to YouTube, thus entitling them to take a share of the advertising revenue?

I think ITV did eventually cotton on and put up an “official” version of the video… long after the interest had died away.

Adam Lambert Entertainment Weekly CoverReality TV did seem to occupy me in 2009. For the first and last time I got into American Idol, thanks to the presence of an actually interesting contestant, Adam Lambert. I devoted a long post to analysis of his performance in the series and whether he would win (he didn’t).

In 2009, Channel 4 announced that they would not renew Big Brother’s contract. This gave me another excuse to moan about the show:

Even the fairly highbrow papers would devote precious column inches to the show, and I had to listen to people at work prattling on about it endlessly (until this year, because no-one cares about it). It actually got on my nerves and angried up my blood in a way that’s hard to articulate.

Good grief, that show pisses me off. Of course, the show didn’t die, it came back on Channel Five with Brian Dowling hosting it. THAT’LL IMPROVE IT FOR SURE.

An altogether more agreeable prospect in 2009 was Micro Men, a dramatised (read: about 50% made up) account of the rivalry between Sinclair and Acorn Computers as they fought for control of the nascent home computer market in the 1980s. Bursting with 80s nostalgia, and with great performances from Alexander Armstrong and Martin Freeman, this is surely one to add to anyone’s DVD collection… except you can’t, because it’s not available on DVD. Bah.

In 2010 a minor skirmish broke out in the normally sedate world of US late night talk shows. Conan O’Brien, host of the Tonight Show on NBC, was forced out in favour of his predecessor, Jay Leno. Naturally I leapt to the defence of Conan, whose off the wall comedy didn’t go down well with NBC’s audiences but was enjoyed by me. I miss the Walker: Texas Ranger lever.

I was fairly unambiguous on one TV topic in 2010:

How friggin’ brilliant is Glee?! Of course, it wasn’t exactly difficult for this one to win me over — anything which features uptempo singing and dancing on a regular basis already has me drawn in.

This, of course, was Glee before it went completely bonkers towards the end of the second season. Come season 3, and it was on Sky. I lamented the satellite broadcaster’s habit of “innovating” by chequebook.

Is Sky One really innovative, or is their success largely based on programmes that have built an audience on free-to-air channels?

Friends, Lost, House and Mad Men all built up audiences on terrestrial channels before Sky opened up their chequebook and locked the rights away on their pay channels.

tl;dr – Fuck you, Murdoch.

I fondly remembered It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, a surreal sitcom with an amazing theme tune:

I do seem to do a lot of sticking up for things. This is especially true if the thing in question is something that is bad, according to the received wisdom. That’s probably why I launched a spirited defence of the studio audience sitcom. This was when Miranda‘s first series had just appeared, and garnered high ratings while simultaneously pissing off snooty Guardian commenters.

I also defended the BBC’s Salford relocation. The anti-BBC press reported with glee the unhappiness of some BBC staff about the move. I was upset at the anti-North prejudice on display:

Our cities are smaller than London, but they are every bit as civilised and cosmopolitan. We have sushi bars and gay people up here too, you know!

It’s rather sad to revisit this post now, when BBC Television Centre in London is about to close, but the loss of TVC can’t be blamed on MediaCityUK.

Fortunately I got to see Television Centre before it closed, as I attended a recording of Pointless with some of my friends. The end result was a lovely day learning about the intricacies of TV production. Naturally, the production team decided that my lovely face should be used for the audience cutaway shots, so in the finished recording, I’m there, happily clapping away.

Man wearing nothing but a towelLate in 2010, I wrote one of my favourite ever blog posts: Doctor… No! This was an in-depth review of the BBC’s daytime soap Doctors, which – for reasons best known to the production team – decided to do a gay James Bond spoof, complete with scantily clad men, actors hamming it up with (ahem) gay abandon, and endless amounts of camp nonsense, As I said at the time:

I’m amazed that they would ever consider even doing an episode like this — dream sequences are one thing, but over an entire episode? Astonishing. Bouncer’s dream in Neighbours pales in comparison. I have to give them credit though — they took the idea and ran with it, throwing caution to the wind.

Also, I think with this episode, Doctors may have overtaken Doctor Who as the gayest show on British television.

The surrealness didn’t end there. After I wrote the post, I started getting lots of comments, most of them only vaguely related to the blog in question. Turns out the BBC linked to my blog from their web site, and their site visitors found their way to my blog and commented. Apparently there’s a character called Mrs Tembe that everyone hates.

Moving on, Jeremy C… sorry, Hunt‘s idea for inspired me to remember Channel One Liverpool, a local cable channel which was run on a shoestring. Will the new broadcaster, BayTV Liverpool, be a worthy successor? We will find out in Autumn 2013 when it launches. Sadly, a return for Billy & Wally’s Night Out looks unlikely.

One programme I have enjoyed a lot over the years is The Daily Show, although I occasionally became frustrated by Channel 4’s treatment of it. This came to a head in 2011, when one episode was dropped entirely due to “compliance issues” – namely, because of a ludicrous UK rule preventing shows from using Parliamentary footage in a satirical context. Jon Stewart reacted with the incredulity you would expect.

Channel 4 subsequently dropped The Daily Show, and many cynics assumed it was to avoid showing up the channel’s homegrown effort 10 O’Clock Live:

The show isn’t perfect by any means. The political interviews and panel discussions, presumably designed to inject a bit of gravitas into proceedings, are rarely very enlightening. This is probably because they are not allocated enough time in the show, and the presenters are forced to end them just as they threaten to get interesting. Lauren Laverne, meanwhile, never seems to get anything worthwhile to do.

I had such high hopes for this. I wanted a proper satirical take on the news to appear on British television (Have I Got News For You is now too mainstream and safe, and Mock the Week is just tiresome personal abuse and lazy gags). I watched every episode of 10 O’Clock Live’s first series, and most of the second series, hoping that it would get better. It didn’t.

As a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan, 2012 brought with it the exciting prospect of buying the episodes I already own all over again, as the show was remastered in high-definition and released on Blu-ray. The “sampler” disc was brilliant, showing the episodes with a crisp high-quality picture that was stunning to behold. However, as of 2013 I haven’t actually been motivated to buy any of the box-sets. Ho-hum.

Exciting news came in October 2012 when the digital switchover was completed. However, it meant the sad final goodbye for Ceefax, a genuine innovation (invented at a time when the BBC seemed to innovate as a matter of course). 2013 is a world without Ceefax, and I’m not sure it’s a world I want to live in.

So, that is telly according to Hampo over the past decade. I’m sure I’ll be annoyed/excited enough about it again in the future to write more. At the very least, I’ll probably moan about 10 O’Clock Live being mediocre again. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some Pages from Hampofax, accompanied by some music.

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