Television gives us
the gift to see ourselves as we’d like to be seen.
- AA Gill, "The London Times", paraphrasing Robbie Burns.
The defining problem
of contemporary television is trust: Can you believe what you see on television,
does television treat people fairly, is it healthy for society?
- Jeremy Paxman, 2007 Edinburgh TV festival
~ About Television & Society
~ Nature Programs
~ Television News
~ How to Watch Television News
It is fashionable to
scoff at Americans, but they routinely produce most of the important and
ground-breaking entertainment in the world. 'Popular culture' is still
culture, Shakespeare was once as popular as any of today's icons with the
- Ian O'Doherty, in Ireland's "The Evening Herald"
Television is a time
machine. It can take you anywhere you wish to go at a press of a button.
The likes of Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, the tongue-in-cheek Lost
In Space and, of course, Doctor Who hurled us into far-flung futures of
varying quality, depending on the available special effects. TV has always
been at its best though, when whisking us into the past. Gunsmoke, Bonanza
and The Virginian transported audiences to an idealised Old West where
men were men, women were women and everyone had perfect teeth. Rather more
realistically, Band Of Brothers dropped us into the heat of battle in the
Second World War. The BBC led us through the lush landscape of classic
literaure, from the squalor of Dickens' London to the court intrigues of
I, Claudius. Jesus of Nazareth, the kind of massive international co-production
that's now a distant TV memory, took us on a journey through the life of
Christ that nothing since has equalled.
- Pat Stacey, "The Evening Herald"
The fault is in our
stars, dear Brutus: not the glass screen through which we see them.
- Tom Shales, "From Telegenic to Telegeneric", "The Washington Post"
our society in a more accurate way than at any time in the past.
- Janet Street Porter
Today, watching television
often means fighting, violence and foul language - and that's just deciding
who gets to hold the remote control.
- Donna Gephart
To understand this
whole area, you have to stop thinking like a viewer and start thinking
like a network programming exec. (Start by lowering your IQ about 15 points.)
- J. Michael Straczynski
It is difficult to
produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when
every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing
about toilet paper.
- Rod Serling
Television is the first
truly democratic culture - the first culture available to everybody and
entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is
what people do want.
- Chirs Barnes
you to be entertained in your home by people you wouldn't have in your
- David Frost
It is a medium of entertainment
which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same
time and yet remain lonesome.
- T.S. Eliot (?)
Some television is
so much chewing gum for the eyes.
- John Mason Brown
As an effective means
of communicating communicating complex arguments, the television ranks
discussion program ranks somewhere between smoke signals and interpretative
- Liam Fay, "The Times"
I must say that I find
television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the
library and read a book.
- Groucho Marx
At least one way of
measuring the freedom of any society is the amount of comedy that is permitted,
and clearly a healthy society permits more satirical comment than a repressive,
so that if comedy is to function in some way as a safety release then it
must obviously deal with these taboo areas. This is part of the responsibility
we accord our licensed jesters, that nothing be excused the searching light
of comedy. If anything can survive the probe of humour it is clearly of
value, and conversely all groups who claim immunity from laughter are claiming
special privileges which should not be granted.
- Eric Idle
If we're bringing up
kids that are so stupid that they kill themselves because of a song, what
good are the kids in the first place?
- Mr. Manson, Marilyn Manson
There is a report that
says that kids who watch violent TV programs tend to be more violent when
they grow up. But did the TV cause the violence, or do violent children
preferentially enjoy watching violent programs?
- Carl Sagan, "The Demon Haunted World", p.203
What was playing in
the Triplex during the French/Indian War? Was John Wilkes Booth chowing
down on Twinkies before he killed Lincoln? Did Saddam Hussein watch a videotape
of "The Terminator" 20 times before he launched missiles or assassinated
citizens? What was on the tube when Cain killed Abel?
If I was going to complain about violence at all, it would be that there's not enough. If there's anything I find offensive about the entire concept of comic book violence, it's that it shows actions without consequences. People get punched and spring right up, cartoon-like, with no effect. If we're doing our youth any disservice, it's depicting scenarios where we don't show what really happens when someone gets injured.
- Glenn Hauman
"If Mr. Vincent Price
were to be co-starred with Miss Bette Davis in a story by Mr. Edgar Allan
Poe directed by Mr. Roger Corman, it could not fully express the pent-up
violence and depravity of a single day in the life of the average family."
- Quentin Crisp
"If every violent program
in the nation were blipped off the air for 48 hours, and replaced by reruns
of the 'Donna Reed Show', there would not be one less death in South Central
LA. At most you'd have several more incidents of people shooting out their
- J. Michael Stracyznski
Anyone afraid of what
he thinks television does to the world is probably just afraid of the world.
- Clive James, "Glued to the Box"
On shows such as CSI
and its many spin-offs and imitators, the victims of each weekly murder
case are, disproportionately, nubile young women. Lisa de Moraes of the
Washington Post came up with an apt shorthand for such series in 2005,
dubbing that year's programmes the "season of Die, Women, Die!".
- Kira Cochrane, in "The Guardian"
"It's just hard not
to listen to TV, its spent so much more time raising us than you have."
- Bart to Homer, "The Simpsons"
"One of television's
greatest contributions was that it brought murder back into the home, where
- Alfred Hitchcock, from his "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" series
"Being perfectly honest,
have you tried reading Dracula or Frankenstein? You'd be found dead of
boredom. Fiction for a dustier age... What survives of that original story
of Jekyll and Hyde is a big, grand, mad idea - the man who turns into his
own demon. And that's too big and grand and mad to be locked into one plot.
Everyone should have a turn. And, yes, purists are going to say that's
wrong and wicked, and that the achievement of Robert Louis Stevenson is
worthy of greater respect. But what bigger achievement is there than creating
a story that everyone wants to tell? Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and
Hyde, most of what we know about them comes from the movies ... Some of
the very best things about those stories were invented in Hollywood. Like
it or not, there's a bunch of screenwriters and designers and directors
who have contributed as much to those modern legends as their original
- Steven Moffat, on the difficulties of adapting classic novels, "The Guardian"
The drama is dwarfed
by the events that clearly inspired it. The scene of the plane crash looked
what it was — a film set. We have seen too much of the real thing to be
impressed by makebelieve. We have watched planes flying into buildings
and seen Russian troops storming a primary school before our very eyes.
How can drama compete?
- Roland White, reviewing "The State Within", "The Times" (2006)
Somewhere around the
turn of the century, it stopped being hip to say you never watched TV.
Adults are much more likely to find something to engage them on television
than they are at the local multiplex. Edges are being cut on television
all the time, but at the movies only now and then.
- Tom Shales, "The Washington Post"
No matter how much
programming improves, however, media savants tend to see the medium living
out numbered days. It's feared that the Internet will do to TV what TV
did to the movies in the 1950s. But instead of panicking, the networks
are finding ways to co-opt the Web.
- Tom Shales, "The Washington Post"
The economics of television
syndication and DVD sales mean that there's a tremendous financial pressure
to make programs that can be watched multiple times, revealing new nuances
and shadings on the third viewing. Meanwhile, the Web has created a forum
for annotation and commentary that allows more complicated shows to prosper,
thanks to the fan sites where each episode of shows like 'Lost' or 'Alias'
is dissected with an intensity usually reserved for Talmud scholars.
- Steven Johnson, "Watching TV Makes You Smarter" in "The New York Times"
will go down as a tragedy — not because it was a creative flop (its small
but intense legion of fans say quite the opposite) but because it committed
the unpardonable sin of crapping out after three seasons. To TV executives,
that is just about the worst thing a series can do, because it means that
the studio has spent big money to keep alive a show that in all likelihood
will never produce serious cash in syndication, where it takes about 100
episodes, or almost five seasons, to prosper. Does that make any sense?
Only to accountants at the TV studios. The economic model that American
viewers are stuck with tends to encourage painfully incremental storytelling
among dramas and formulaic situations in comedies. Why? So the shows can
reach the vaunted 100 mark more easily. Producers lean toward that magic
number whether creativity dictates it or not. For all the talk of the death
of network comedies, precious little thought has been given to changing
the financial formula.
- Scott Collins, "The LA Times"
Television is a constant
stream of fact, opinions, lies, moral dilemmas, plots: an infinitely complex
and sophisticated torrent of information. How could it not make you cleverer?
The only people who ever thought television rotted the brain and made kids
dumb were those with a vested interest in other ways of learning, or those
who were intellectually insecure, usually about books.
- AA Gill, "The Times"
Chris Morris is a comedian
so powerful that networks fight not to be allowed to screen his shows.
No head of entertainment has ever been so relieved as the BBC was when
Morris took his ball over to Channel 4, where the suits have been nervously
switching on the lights before entering rooms ever since.
- Maggie Brown, "The Guardian"
If I do someone and
they don't go to bed crying and wanting to kill themselves, then I have
failed in my job.
- Chris Morris, Britain's leading satirist
"It is often said that
you can tell when production holds much animosity to an actor's departure...
because the writers kill the character in a horrible way or give some other
type of horrible fate."
- Behind the Scenes of Sliders, "Dimension of Continuity"
When some future cultural
commentator comes to write the definitive history of television, one of
the many problems they will have to face is how to treat the phenomenon
of David Hasselhoff. On the one hand, the American actor and singer is
a deadly serious entity, the star and producer of the world's most watched
television programme, Baywatch, which in 1996 had a weekly audience estimated
at more than a billion around the world. But on the other hand, "the Hoff",
as he is known, has become an icon of deranged naffness, an ironic hero
for a post-pub audience. How will any future historian reconcile this contradiction?
How does the great Hoff himself reconcile it?
- Toby Clements, reviewing "Making Waves", "The Telegraph"
Hating Indians is almost
a defining patriotic characteristic of being Pakistani. But Pakistanis
love Bollywood. They can't get enough of Indian movies, they paint the
faces of Indian film stars on their taxis and lorries.
The Pakistanis can do something that is blindingly obvious if you think about it, but somehow eludes sociologists and the producers of television - that is, like most adults, they can tell the difference between fact and fiction, between a 12in-high person in a box and the man next door. Laughing at Friends doesn't necessarily mean you buy the whole American way of life. The folk who believe in cultural colonialism most fundamentally are, of course, the French. They believe in their own, just not anyone else's.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
Making a programme
that appears to condone a positive stereotype actually enforces all the
negative ones as well. It says that they all have a valid point. To assert
that Americans are naive, Germans humourless and the French arrogant is
one thing: they’re big enough to take it. But to say that there’s a conspiracy
of Jewish bankers, that gypsies are thieves, Pakistanis are dirty and refugees
are muggers is something quite else.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
Is it a particularly
British trait to so utterly adore truly appalling men, from Tony Hancock
through to Steptoe and Alf Garnett, Captain Mainwaring, Rigsby, Del Boy,
Victor Meldrew and on to David Brent from The Office. The most deeply adored
characters are all simply vile.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
impeccably paced, it was a clear, unrelenting look at the National Trust,
its friends and enemies, and it makes you want to burn your passport and
beg the Luftwaffe to have another go."
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
Television in the 1960s
& 70s had just as much dross and the programmes were a lot more tediously
patronising than they are now. Memory truncates occasional gems into a
glittering skein of brilliance. More television, more channels means more
good television and, of course, more bad. The same equation applies to
publishing, film and, I expect, sumo wrestling.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
I still secretly believe
that afternoons are the time for the test card and you shouldn’t watch
television when the sun is out.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
An American has invented
a remote control that will turn off any telly within a 20ft radius. What
a marvellous device! What a splendid invention! What a really helpful and
improving way of devoting your time to building something that turns off
culture. Next week, I’m instigating Burn a Book Week, to encourage even
more conversation. I’ve come up with a fantastic little device which I’ll
call a box of matches.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
The quangos responsible
for these things have withdrawn their collective finger from the dyke and
said that, as far as they were concerned, the other side of the watershed
could be a deluge of filth, a torrent of enhanced copulation and cosmetic
surgery, punctuated by dark puddles of devil worship and anarchy. They
have officially given up trying to police the airwaves on the grounds of
taste after 9pm. So there will be nobody except a couple of Tristrams to
flash the yardstick of acceptability. Television will become like the embattled
Roman empire: order and reason, a police state on this side, and, on the
other, all Huns, Goths, vandals and barbarism.
- AA Gill, on Britain's 9pm TV 'watershed' rules, "The London Times"
Get up now and go and
find Robert Kilroy-Silk. Smile in a warm, friendly sort of way, then punch
him on the nose. Now go and find Robert on television, despite my best
endeavours, this is still relatively easy to do. Wait for a close-up, same
smile, and punch him on the nose. If you followed the instructions carefully,
you will have noticed a distinct difference. On the one hand, you were
suffused with a sense of public-spirited righteousness; on the other, you’re
probably dribbling blood. That’s the difference between reality in life
and reality on television.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
There is an assumption
that broadcasting is broadly left-wing by sympathy and inclination. It’s
a pretty fair assumption. The left is naturally iconoclastic, the right
iconophilic. The right conserves, the left creates. So, television is made
mostly by left-wing people and, because of this, documentaries tend to
look at right-wing subjects. We’ve all grown up with righteous inquiries
into Third World dictators, criminal multi-nationals and duplicitous Americans.
So, Lefties (Wednesday, BBC4) is a welcome, not to say inspired, idea for
an investigation. It turned out to be rather a conservative, nostalgic
look back at whatever happened to the likely lads of the hard left. Nothing
dates like the pressing political crisis of yesterday. The 1970s seem so
sweetly innocent compared with today’s news. Altogether, Lefties is softly
pink, remarkably uncritical and fondly reminiscent. But then it would be.
The hard left morphed into the greens and world-trade activists; the fact
they had supported and aided a lot of the most vicious, inhuman and murderous
dictators, revolutionaries and guerrillas simply because they were anti-capitalists
is lost in the mist of nostalgia.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
"The good television
of today is probably better than the best television of the old days. The
bad television of today is worse. It is not only bad, it is damaging, meretricious,
seedy and cynical."
- John Humphrys, BBC Presenter
"It is strange but
true that the weather is not a matter to be treated lightly in broadcasting.
The style of your weather tends to set the tone of the entire proceedings.
When we think of the BBC World Service, we think first of the Shipping
Forecast. Its deathless world-music evokes the entire philosophy of the
BBC at its best.
Look at the weather on Sky and you are similarly informed of the overall ethos, which is that everything aspires to the condition of a singles bar. You're not sure whether they're going to tell you about thunderstorms in Bosnia, or give you a big wet kiss and buy you a spritzer.
The legendary Kelvin McKenzie knows his weather. When he ran Live! TV, he declared his crowning achievement to be the dwarf who read the weather. The little guy could always reach up to Birmingham, but he never quite made Edinburgh. It made Kelvin laugh every time. Live! TV was essentially about laughing at dwarfs."
- Declan Lynch, "Holding The Fort", Irish Independent, 11.10.98
"With the advent of
24-hour Sky News, the News Flash has been greatly devalued. Time was, when
something unimaginably horrendous had to happen before it was deemed worthy
of a News Flash. At least one, preferably two, and ideally all four horsemen
of the apocalypse would have to be involved. "
- Declan Lynch, "The Irish Independent"
"Advocates of dumbing
down should note the wonderfully perverse fact that 'University Challenge'
and 'Mastermind' were watched by millions who could hardly even understand
the questions, let alone ejaculate the answers. Maybe they just liked to
watch smart people sweating."
- Declan Lynch, "The Irish Independent"
"In the real world,
of course, marketing realities tend to prevail over all my fine theory.
And while I might be banging on here about some gritty lesbian drama on
C4, what I am actually watching more than anything else is 'Barney and
Friends'. Barney is the boy who puts bums on seats in any home which has
a child in it. I love Barney, and I simply must defend Barney against the
frequent little swipes and jibes to which he is subjected to in the Irish
'Odious,' he has been called, and worse, in what can only be called a sustained campaign of villification. Perhaps they are just trying to convey the impression that they would never stoop so low as to allow their children to watch anything on TV.
What is absolutely certain is that Barney, the Bear and his friends would have run the Irish Times better than some people."
- Declan Lynch, Irish Independent, TV Review, 2.12.01
"There aren't many
things that give me nightmares. The X-Files, 'Alien' and Roseanne have
all taken their best shots and not once have I ever awoken, screaming and
covered in sweat, with visions of face-sucking monsters or Roseanne and
John Goodman having sex lingering in my subconscious.
That has all changed now. I got a look at Teletubbies, the latest PBS show for kids, and there is no way in hell I'm going to sleep for a week. There have been many bizarre TV programs throughout the history of the medium, but not one of them - not even the Miami Vice episode that featured James Brown as an extraterrestrial televangelist - comes close to the mind-warping sensibility of Teletubbies.
It would not surprise me in the least to find out the Teletubbies are actually serial killers. If I'm Barney or Tickle-Me-Elmo or whatever other competition the Teletubbies have, I'm going to be looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life."
- Gregg Wrenn, "Teevee.Org"
The revolution will
be televised, but you'll only be able to understand it if you don't watch
the television coverage.
- Russ Nelson
Television drama can
enlighten and educate but that should not be its primary aim. Its job is
to entertain, stimulate and reflect the surrounding world. When writers
start believing they can redeem society or incite viewers less perceptive
than themselves to wake up and smell the coffee, the consequences are bad
drama and insufferable piety.
- Liam Fay, "The Times"
A recent study found
traditional nursery rhymes expose children to 10 times more violence than
pre-watershed television, there were five violent scenes per hour on television
but more than 52 per hour in the nursery rhymes... In reality, of course,
there will be no outcry about nursery rhymes. What the Chicken Lickens
of Irish parenting really object to is not violence but modernity. Blinded
by a sentimentalised and sanitised memory of their own childhoods, they
refuse to acknowledge that violence has always played a central role in
popular culture. Many parents single out video games, gross-out movies
and TV shows as the root of all evil because they offend their aesthetic,
rather than parental, sensibilities.
- Liam Fay, "The Times"
Television has given
an inestimable boost to what sociologists call 'cocooning' — turning your
back on the world to live in your own family space with the drawbridge
up... It makes us think we know people who are, in fact, strangers. It
puffs up into apparent importance 'personalities' some of whom are little
better than well-lit dullards. It accustoms us to mocking fellow humans
from a safe distance, enjoying their humiliation on heartless confrontation
and reality shows. At least the Roman crowd at the Circus Maximus had to
smell the blood and catch the eyes of the victims, and could not change
channels if they became distressed. Watching physical or emotional violence
done to real people on TV we stay safe in our chairs, growing ever more
layers of callousness.
It may be worth reflecting that all our fretting about 'public service broadcasting', watersheds and regulation may one day turn out to have been a diversion. It might be the medium itself we should be looking at through narrowed, suspicious eyes.
- Libby Purves, "The Times"
"We're so screwed up
with our principles. We used to mock Japanese game shows where they ate
bugs. Now we're doing the same, if not worse. It's terrifying... It seems
the better the quality (of what you're trying to do), the more you're penalised..
There are some very good people in television, but a lot of fools running
it. They put fame ahead of talent and think someone from EastEnders will
put bums on seats."
- Philip Glenister, of "Life on Mars", on the state of British TV
"The main problem with
British television is that there isn't enough. In the United States, with
so many channels, it's a bad-tempered person who can't find something to
watch, even if it's just an ancient rerun of House of Cards."
- Sarah Lyall, London correspondent for the New York Times.
"Tell a Brazilian that
some critics are arguing that television has 'dumbed down' in Britain and
he will laugh. It needs to 'dumb down a lot more', he will say. It is beyond
the grasp of any Brazilian how history and nature documentaries take up
9pm slots on BBC1 and ITV1.
...Working side by side with Americans, from 1996 to 1999, I noticed how patriotic they can be. Just look how involved American anchors and reporters are getting with the 'war' coverage in Afghanistan. They sound like Brazilian football commentators. British anchors and reporters never seem to be supporting any side, be it in football or in war."
- Gianni Carta, CartaCaptial, "Rating British TV", The Guardian.
"George Bernard Shaw's
old line about two countries divided by a common language wasn't aimed
at Australia, but it might as well have been. Brits who go to Australia
are dismayed and appalled by the quality of television there. Australians
who come to Britain wonder if a kind of madman has been let loose on the
programming, producing and scheduling.
...In 1985, when I moved to Britain, after a couple of early glitches (I assumed EastEnders was a sitcom with jokes I was just failing to get) British TV seemed like a cultural oasis."
- Bruce Wilson, News Ltd of Australia.
"Americans think the
only funny Brits are John Cleese, Benny Hill and whoever makes our toothpaste.
They’re not laughing with us, they are laughing at us."
- AA Gill, "The Times"
"The best sense of
our contemporary lives exists in television’s Cinderella genre, the soaps.
As we report today there are now 22 hours of new soap operas on terrestrial
television every week. There will be those who will deprecate leisure spent
in what may be considered mere televisual froth and spume. If Britons must
be couch potatoes, they argue, why cannot they at least spend the time
reading something worthwhile such as Dickens, Hardy, Austen, Mrs Gaskell
or Wilkie Collins? What these critics fail to appreciate is how closely
the genre is descended from just those works of English literature’s great
- The London Times, Leading Article, "Dickens and Eastenders".
"This is probably an
unwise admission for a television critic to make, but I've never clued
into soaps and thus I've never understood their appeal - all that whingeing
and whining, all those dreary relationships with their recriminations,
frequent punch-ups and occasional head-buttings, all those unhappy and
unpleasant people. Who'd want to look at something like that? Well, millions
Nowadays soaps have abandoned any attempt at fidelity to life as most of us know it and instead concoct ever-increasing over-the-top storylines."
- John Boland, reviewing "How Soaps Changed The World", "The Irish Independent"
"On the Today programme
last August, John Cleese uttered a blasphemy of the order of Galileo telling
the Pope that the earth revolved around the sun. He intimated that American
television was now better than British television. Despite the howls of
outrage that followed his comments, you have to admit he’s got a point.
Which would you prefer to watch? Band of Brothers or Survivor? Will &
Grace or Gimme Gimme Gimme? Buffy or Hollyoaks? Face it, Mr Dyke, we’re
getting our asses kicked.
The average cost of an imported TV programme in 1999 was £20,000 an hour, while the average cost of home-produced TV was way over £100,000. That £100,000, of course, is across the board. Decent drama costs roughly £500,000 for an hour. If you’re a broadcaster and you’re going to get Hollywood producers, stars and production values for 4% of the cost of home-produced drama, well, wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to fill your screens with low-cost reality programmes where unpaid members of the public compete in game shows, audition to be famous and clown about in docusoaps than worry too much about cutting-edge creative drama? But come now. That would never happen, would it, Mr Cleese?"
- Stephen Armstrong, "The London Times"
So it’s goodbye to
Foyle’s War (Sunday, ITV), for the time being at least. The series seems
to have been cancelled not because it was no good; it was, for a TV detective
drama, superb. Nor because it had poor ratings — they were huge for today’s
crowded television schedules. The reason seems to be that it had the wrong
kind of viewers, people who remembered the war or, increasingly these days,
people who were born to people who remembered the war. It is a given of
marketing that the young are the only target advertisers should bother
to attract, since they are deemed to flit from brand to brand like binge-drinking
butterflies. Older people are presumed to be set in their ways. No doubt
some are. But many are prepared to use their larger incomes to switch from
one brand of car to another, to try new drinks, new toilet cleansers and
new places to go on holiday. However, marketing is a ju-ju science, much
like astrology, and its practitioners need to insist they are never wrong
because if you examined their work carefully you would discover that they
were rarely right.
- Simon Hoggart, "The Spectator"
The BBC is in less
bad shape than many might have predicted two or three years ago. For a
start, it seems to be much better value than many of those extra-terrestrial
channels which constantly seek to undermine its funding. We may tire of
the fatuous advertising campaigns insisting ‘This is what we do!’ when,
in fact, we cannot but know what they do because we’re forced to pay for
it. We could do without the political correctness which seemingly infests
every programme, the tired and timorous news and current affairs documentaries
and its obeisance every so often to the lowest common denominator of popular
taste. We could do without the corporate bureaucracy, too. But set against
this is the fact that the BBC’s news coverage is still way ahead of the
pack; it has read sport dead right and now knows when to bid and when to
leave well alone. Its digital output is fine; its online presence — at
one time relentlessly criticised merely for existing, if you remember —
a match for all competitors. And there are parents who would pay the licence
fee just for CBeebies alone.
- Rod Liddle, "The Spectator"
"For many of those
now controlling British television - who have reached their positions of
authority in an era of pretty much uninterrupted hedonism and dominance
of popular culture - 'the past' is now something to sneer at and impose
your own values upon, more than it is something to learn about, understand
and appreciate. The understanding of context and the application of correct
historical detail are now considered far less important than they were."
- Robin Carmody
"Television - strange
thing about television is that it doesn't tell you everything, it shows
you everything about life on earth, but the true mysteries remain. Perhaps
it's in the nature of television, just waves in space."
- Newton, "The Man Who Fell To Earth"
"The BBC has been doing
tremendously well, of late, beating ITV at its own game of peddling trash
to the masses."
- The Economist sums up the UK TV situation, 11 May 2002
"Do we really require
so many gardening programmes, makeover programmes or celebrity chefs?"
- Sir David Attenborough, on the current BBC schedule
"Terry Wogan's secret
is that he almost completely ignores the Eurovision and uses the three
hours or so to chat away to himself about whatever comes into his head.
It's like Terry's annual state of the nation address."
- Brendan O'Connor, reviewing the Eurovision Song Contest on BBC, "The Irish Independent"
"Once, BBC television
had echoed BBC radio in being a haven for standard English pronunciation.
Then regional accents came in: a democratic plus. Then slipshod usage came
in: an egalitarian minus. By now slovenly grammar is even more rife on
the BBC channels than on ITV. In this regard a decline can be clearly charted...
If the BBC, once the guardian of the English language, has now become its
most implacable enemy, let us at least be grateful when the massacre is
carried out with style."
- Clive James, quote from "The Crystal Bucket"
"When people asked
me what I did for a living, I told them I make pilots. They thought I was
- Actress Suzanne Somers, star of 9 failed shows in succession
"It's not racism per
se but the tyranny of normalcy - no: the tyranny of attractive normalcy.
Which leads to loveable white models who are supposed to be playing ordinary,
adorably flawed professionals just like you and me with their brilliant
minority friends (with vastly less camera time) who are surgeons. But it's
not just ethnicity. That narrow vision also extends to, say, things like
women leads. Women leads have to be good-hearted and nice, with a Slutty
Best Friend. The main character can't be slutty. Because that's not attractively
- Sandra Tsing Loh, on the TV casting process, interviewed in "National Review"
They're cheap, cheerless
and frequently make you want to chuck your television set out the nearest
window but the bad news is that reality TV shows are here to stay. What's
more, they're breeding like free-range rabbits on Viagra... and more often
than not, so-called reality TV bears as much relation to actual reality
as the works of JRR Tolkien.
- Pat Stacey, on the popularity of 'Reality TV', "The Irish Independent"
There are two types
of people in this world -- those who would appear on reality television
and the rest of us.
- Ian O'Doherty, "The Irish Independent"
Nowadays, to be frank,
every week is a good week for freakshow television. we might start asking,
Why are there so many freaks? And why do they all want to be on television?
- Caitlin Moran, "Look mum, I'm stupid and proud of it", "The Times"
"What is this, amateur
night?!" Once upon another time, that was the ultimate insult — as when
bellowed by a bombastic director at performers rehearsing a play sloppily
in the classic movie musical "42nd Street." But the slur has lost its punch.
Any given evening, on any broadcast or cable network, could be amateur
night now, and suffer no more for it than high ratings and crowds of commercials...
In an age when TV cameras are nearly as commonly owned as TV sets — and
when amateur auteurs at home produce films that are uplinked to millions
of screens, a la YouTube — being on television is no longer such a big
deal... On reality TV, real people have mastered the art of faking it.
They learned by watching years of old-fashioned television dominated by
- Tom Shales, "The Washington Post"
Mental illness as entertainment.
- Steven Daly, "Vanity Fair" on the Reality TV phenomenon
"It warps the minds
of our children and weakens the resolve of our allies".
- Stephen Colbert, on Reality TV
Society derives a Darwinian
benefit from shows like 'Jackass'. It weeds out the weak, the stupid, and
those unable to leap over speeding automobiles.
- Nancy Walls
One of the few good
things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will
not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
- Kurt Vonnegut
Under this avalanche
of choice, something special is being buried. It's something that, once
gone, will never return and our society will be the worse for it. I'm talking
about this: Shared Experience.
We're losing the one thing, outside of mindless entertainment and shallow education, that TV does best: providing us with a cultural shorthand that binds us together as a country.
Think about it. When shows were popular in the 1950s and 60s, they weren't drawing eight or nine million people (about what a show has to do to qualify as a "summer hit" nowadays), they were drawing 60% of the TVs in America. Like the empty soulless relationship that I have with most of my family, if you had no connection with someone, you at least had TV in common. And because there was no choice about what or when to watch, you had very specific TV to talk about. "Hey, did you catch Lucy last night?"
Talking TV with someone today is kind of like two boxers dancing around each other.
"Do you watch Rescue Me?"
"No, I never got into it. I could never get past the whole 'Denis Leary stole Bill Hicks's persona thing.' What about the Sopranos? Did you see that finale?"
"I don't have HBO."
"Ooh, what about Top Chef? You ever watch that?"
"No, I'm a heterosexual."
"Oh yeah, I keep forgetting. Hm. Maybe we should just stop being friends."
"Yeah, lets just sit here on the couch and sink into a deep existential depression."
We're running out of those communal experiences. I suppose we still have the Super Bowl. American Idol still has a little heat clinging to Simon's too-tight sweaters. But beyond that...?
- Jay Black, on the downside of having hundreds of TV channels, "TV Squad"
What was Joyce Vincent
watching when she died, I wondered. What was Joyce Vincent watching when
they found her? Joyce Vincent's, I think, is one of the saddest stories
you could tell: that of a 40-year-old woman so alone that, when she died
in a London bedsit, her body lay there, amid half-wrapped Christmas presents,
for two years before it was found. They finally broke in and discovered
her corpse only because - with her rent two years in arrears — the housing
trust decided to repossess. Her identity was confirmed when they compared
what they knew of her teeth with a photograph of her, smiling. For reasons
that I find hard to articulate, this week's reports of her death were all
the bleaker for including the fact that, when they found the body, the
television was still on... Miss Vincent passed two birthdays lifeless in
her living room. The Christmas for which she had been wrapping presents
passed, and then the next one. No friend called by or wondered where she
was. A neighbour knocked on the door and went away. The machinery of the
state ground on without her. And across the room, the television continued
to flicker. The telly was beaming life, or some version of life, into a
room where its owner lay dead and, we must assume, her bank account quietly
paid for it to continue. That's incredibly sad and also, in a way, paradoxical.
It's more or less impossible, in the 21st century, to live "off the grid".
Everywhere we go, we are watched by CCTV, supervised by agencies and authorities,
listed in databases, named in registers, tracked by our banks. Who are
we? Why, as far as the world is concerned, we're the sum of all that. Yet
the harder it is to be invisible, to be off the grid of bureaucratic function,
the easier it probably is to be off the grid of human interaction. Twenty
years ago, for example, you might expect Miss Vincent's body to have been
discovered through the traditional route by which the corpses of deceased
pensioners used to come to public light: a build-up of uncollected bottles
of milk outside the front door.
- Sam Leith, with a sad, cautionary tale in "The Spectator"
I remember reading
(many, many years ago) Friends star Lisa Kudrow's comments in an interview,
complaining that all of the interesting roles in Hollywood were for white
men, because they are the only characters allowed to have actual flaws.
Women and minorities were always saints.
- from a National Review letter
Robert Thompson, director
of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University,
said that although fathers may be ridiculed in ads and on television, they
spent years as warm, genial and courtly patriarchs. "Fathers are now something
to make fun of on TV, but they had a good long run where they were the
authority," he said. Through the '60s, he said, they were portrayed as
benevolent within a family utopia. Then, in the '70s Archie Bunker came
along and turned the dad perception on its head. By the '80s, dad was good
again with such shows as "Growing Pains," "Family Ties" and "The Cosby
Show." Late in that decade, however, the father roles shifted with shows
such as "Roseanne" and "Married With Children." "Al Bundy was a buffoon,
but Kate Bundy was no better," Mr. Thompson said of the comedy show "Married
With Children," which chronicled the dysfunctional Bundy family and their
lazy, unmotivated spawn. "Dads in comedies now tend to be balanced by beautiful
wives," he said. "I'm thinking of 'King of Queens,' 'According to Jim'
and, not too long ago, 'Everybody Loves Raymond.'" Each of those shows
features a father who struggles when dealing with his children, and whose
fix-it foibles and emotional shortcomings are managed or accepted by his
long-suffering wife and family.
- Andrea Billups, "The Washington Times"
>> Quotes from Reviews of Television Series moved to <here>
>> LIFE ON EARTH - NATURE PROGRAMS
"The savage, rocky
shores of Christmas Island, 200 miles south of Java, in the Indian Ocean.
It's November, the moon is in its third quarter, and the sun is just setting.
In a few hours from now, on this very shore, a thousand million lives will
- David Attenborough's opening narration for "The Trials Of Life"
"There are over four
million different kinds of animals and plants in the world. Four million
different solutions to the problem of staying alive."
- David Attenborough's opening narration for "Life On Earth"
anathema, as far as I am concerned. It leads you into ethical problems
about violence and killing and eating meat. The whole world becomes topsy-survy
if you impose moralities that were evolved within human society on what
a blowfly or what a parasite does... there are lots of emotions you can
deduce from an animal's behaviour that are correct, but when you start
saying it's feeling guilty or thinking or a loved one or mourning, you
must be very careful of those feelings."
- David Attenborough, interviewed by Bryan Appleyard in "The Times"
It seems a bit pointless
being a television critic when faced with something like "The Life of Mammals",
which is so good that the only possible response is admiration. To criticise
it would be to criticise the animals themselves.
- Rupert Smith, "The Guardian"
In a bat cave in Borneo,
a man in a familiar safari suit is speaking to camera. Beside him, illuminated
against dramatic blackness, is an immense golden dune (150ft high) that
unaccountably shimmers. A number of questions spring to mind. Of what does
this dune consist? (Answer: bat droppings.) Why does it shimmer? (Answer:
because it is covered by a moving, glinting, slithering carpet of cockroaches.)
The only question one doesn’t bother to ask is: who is the man in the safari
suit? Because it is David Attenborough, of course. And, being David Attenborough,
he will not only stand proudly beside this pile of guano, but will also
attempt to ascend it, cockroaches or no cockroaches, kicking his way up
it 'as one kicks steps in a steep snow field'.
- Lynne Truss, reviewing "Life On Air" for The Sunday Times
If there is one emotion
David Attenborough admits to, it is his loathing for desks. An anthropological
experiment involving David Attenborough would be to place a desk outside
his front door in Richmond every day and see how long it took before he
attacked it.So, at the height of his BBC managerial career, he voluntarily
jacked it in to make programmes, and, of course, never looked back. No,
he never looked back when he was 200ft up a tree in a South American rainforest;
when he was on a Pacific beach surrounded by a zillion crabs; and especially
not when he lay whispering in the long grass of Rwanda, being pawed by
- Lynne Truss, reviewing "Life On Air" for The Sunday Times
The dominant image
of the week came from Part Four of 'The Trials of Life', in which Whispering
Dave Attenborough finally hit his stride. The programme dealt with the
grisly subject of how animals hunt and are hunted. It started with some
relatively innocuous piracy practised by seabirds on one another, then
moved to some truly terrifying footage showing a pack of killer whales
catching and apparently torturing seal cubs.
It was the closing sequence of the film, however, which will live forever in the minds of all who saw it. Mr. Attenborough gave a breathless running commentary as a group of chimpanzees closed in on a hapless colobus monkey which they then proceeded to dismember. As the hunters went for the kill, the rest of the group cheered and shrieked in an orgy of savagery.
Creeping up on them as they digested their meal, Attenborough turned to the camera and said: "These bloodstained faces may well horrify us. But we might also see in them the faces of our long-distant hunting ancestors. And if we are appalled by the mob violence and blood lust we might see in that, too, perhaps, the origins of the teamwork that has, in the end given human beings many of their greatest triumphs."
It was a sobering moment, for which he had chosen just the right words. People said that if he lived to be a hundred, Mr. Attenborough would never cap the scene in 'Life on Earth' in which he was cuddled by a
huge gorilla, and whispered so as not to alarm the beast. Well, they were wrong.
- John Naughton, reviewing "The Trials of Life"
It was obvious from
the first episode that thousands of new zoologists would all be conceived
at once, like a population bulge. I watched enthralled, distracted only
by envy of my own children, for whom knowledge was being brought to alive
in a way that never happened for my generation or indeed any previous generation
in all of history... Slack-jawed with wonder and respect, I keep trying
to imagine what it must be like nowadays to be young, inquisitive and faced
with programmes as exciting as these... To Attenborough all that lives
is beautiful: he possesses, to a high degree, the quality that Einstein
called Einfühlung - the intellectual love for the objects of experience.
Few who saw it will forget Attenborough's smile of ecstasy as he stood,
some years ago, knee-deep in a conical mound of Borneo bat-poo... Attenborough
has all the resources of technology at his disposal, but the chief attribute
he brings to this titanic subject is his own gift for the simple statement
that makes complexity intelligible. With him, television becomes an instrument
- Clive James reviewing "Life on Earth" in "The Crystal Bucket"
Here he's introducing
us to amphibians and reptiles, not the most cuddly of God's creations but
such a source of wide-eyed pleasure to him that the viewer can't fail to
be swept along by his manifest fascination. When, on a nocturnal walk in
Madagascar and after decades of fruitless seeking, he finally got to see
and to hold the smallest chameleon in the world, he almost burst into tears
at the thrill of it all. We're lucky to be living in his lifetime and to
be allowed to share his deep knowledge, his boundless enthusiasm and his
unique gifts as a commentator.
- John Boland, reviewing Attenborough's "Life in Cold Blood", The Irish Independent (Feb'08)
Planet Earth (BBC1,
Sunday) is so much better than anything else on television at the moment
that there seems little point in writing about it. Unlike most current
TV, which tries to make even the most worthless people feel fleetingly
significant, Planet Earth purges human pride by confronting it with the
magnitude of creation.
- Rupert Smith, "The Guardian"
The driver ants of
East Africa, stars of Natural World (BBC2), are a fearsome bunch. They're
a bit like travelling England supporters in their behaviour, but scarier
because of their greater numbers (several million in the average gang),
their better organisation and greater intelligence. Every three weeks they
go on these terrifying rampages, slaughtering everything in their path.
What about a crab? Surely he's going to be all right under his armour?
Oh no. The ants find his Achilles heels — they tear into the thinner membranes
around his joints and crawl inside. Others hold open his mouth, while their
friends swarm in. The crab is eaten alive, from the inside. At last these
thugs meet their match — termites, the German hooligans of the insect world.
But actually this is far more spectacular than any football thuggery. The
termites live in a gothic tower of mud, like Gaudi's Barcelona cathedral.
At every entrance soldiers wait, their jaws open and ready to fight. The
ants attack, swarming up all sides of castle. They lock jaws, battle begins;
this is like a scene from "The Lord of the Rings". Better, because it's
- Sam Wollaston, "The Guardian"
>> TELEVISION NEWS
"Why are we bothering
to interview Tom when's he's just going to repeat everything I've said?"
"Yes, but he'll be repeating it live from the scene. Television is a visual medium, if nothing's happening you have to show its not happening, live, as its not happening."
- Henry & Gus, "Drop The Dead Donkey"
"The one function TV
news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you
with the same emphasis as if there were."
- David Brinkley
"10.30 Newsnight: What
Are The Chances Of World War Three Breaking Out After You Have Gone To
- Alan Coren, examining the real reasons people watch TV news in "The Times"
"If there is only 24
hours to save the universe why are you talking to us?"
- Declan Lynch imagines a question for journalists in a crisis, "The Irish Independent"
"The biases the media
has are much bigger than conservative or liberal. They're about getting
ratings, about making money, about doing stories that are easy to cover."
- Al Franken, on America's media
news seems almost quaintly beside the point at a time when the networks
are hemorrhaging viewers, losing more and more eyeballs to cable, the Internet
and, apparently, our nation's new habit of staring blankly into space...
It's always tempting to find villains to blame when things go wrong, and
few public figures offer themselves up as willingly and gleefully for that
role as Rupert Murdoch, the man behind the blatantly ideological Fox News
Channel. Mr. Pappas blithely pounces
on him, as is his right and duty to do so. But someone is watching those Murdoch shows, reading those Murdoch newspapers and buying those Murdoch books and movies. And that someone is us. Last time I checked, we were still free to stop."
- Dave Kehr reviews "Orwell Rolls In His Grave", for "The New York Times"
"Hello. I'm grey haired...
I've been your father. Goodnight."
"And I'm pretty... I've been your mistress. Goodnight."
- BBC2's "Dead Ringers" portray the stereotypical American news anchors
When TS Eliot wrote,
in East Coker, that "the whole earth is our hospital", he was thinking
theologically, but his words have been fulfilled technologically, 70 years
on, by TV news.
On Tuesday morning, television and radio audiences in Britain kept an enforced vigil for news (first good, then bad) of the miners trapped in a West Virginia mine; by Wednesday evening our living rooms had become an annexe of the relatives' waiting room at the Hadassah clinic in Jerusalem as we waited for the latest (first bad, then worse) on the condition of Ariel Sharon. The whole earth, indeed, is our hospital; every few hours another urgent message summons us to the bedside (or the graveside, or often one and then the other) of another person. 24-hour news has led us into perpetual mourning about stricken strangers... The problem is that news editors in television and radio can now sample drama from anywhere in the world, and so stories that might once have made headlines only in the West Virginia Mountain News - or been reported round the clock on Radio Jerusalem - now receive global 24-hour coverage. But the question that editors and audiences need to ask constantly is whether we are watching because we care or because we can. This week's events have strongly suggested that we need to cut back on our hospital visiting hours.
- Mark Lawson, "The Guardian"
And on the 55th day,
God sent a flood to destroy all of Britainkind. And Oxfordshire sank. And
Gloucestershire sank. And the Vale of Evesham became a stagnant puddle
with a few bits of roof poking out of it. And Sky News did sadly gaze upon
the scene, running a Breaking News caption each time a lilypad floateth
past, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, for even though
this was the most boring natural disaster of all time, there was much ruining
of carpet and wine cellar, and the people were greatly upset. And eventually
God appearethed at a hastily-arranged press conferenceth and said, "lo,
- Charlie Brooker, on TV coverage of the 2007 UK floods, "The Guardian"
When you stand at a
distance and survey this level of nitpicking idiocy, taking in the full
landscape of stupidity and meaningless analysis, it's hard not to conclude
that 24-hour rolling news is the worst thing to befall humankind since
the Manhattan Project. The focus on conjecture and analysis has reached
such an insane degree that pundits are chasing some kind of meaning in
the way a presidential candidate scratches his face. This is what lunatics
do when they think people on television are sending them personalised messages.
Where the rest of us see Vernon Kay hosting a gameshow, they see evidence
of a conspiracy, and they scan every wink, nod, and eyebrow twitch for
veiled threats or coded instructions. Except the lunatics have an excuse:
they're lunatics. Lunacy is what they do. It's in their job description.
News networks are supposed to offer news. Instead they serve little but
loops and chatter. They may as well show footage of passing clouds and
invite their pundits to speculate on which one looks most like a kettle
and which one looks most like a pony and let the race for the presidency
be settled by a bowling match.
- Charlie Brooker, "The Guardian"
>> HOW TO WATCH TV NEWS BY NEIL POSTMAN
Anyone who us not an avid reader of newspapers, magazines and books is by definition unprepared to watch a television news show, and will always be. Anyone who relies exclusively on television for his knowledge of the world is making a serious mistake. Just as television can show things about the world that are not possible to experience through print, print can reveal complexities and facts that are not possible to show on television. Therefore, those who do not read about the world are limited in their capacity to understand what is seen on television.
Several features of
television undermine whatever efforts journalists may make to give sense
to the world. One is that a television broadcast is a series of events
that occur in sequence, and the sequence is the same for all viewers. With
a newspaper, readers can choose the order in which they read them. In a
sense then, everyone reads a different newspaper, for no two readers will
read (or ignore) the same items.
But all television viewers see the same broadcast - they have no choices. As NBC news executive Reuven Frank once explained :
'A newspaper can easily afford to print an item of conceivable interest to only a fraction of its readers. A television news program must be put together with the assumption that each item will be of some interest to everyone that watches.'
The TV establishment argues that television is the most democratic institution in America. Every week a plebiscite of sorts is held to determine which programs and which are not. The popular ones stay, the others go. This proves that the programs give the public what they want.
Studies conducted by
Professor George Gerbner at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that
people who are heavy television viewers, including viewers of news shows,
believe their communities are much more dangerous than do light television
viewers. Television news, in other words, tends to frighten people. The
question is, 'Ought they to be frightened?' which is to ask, 'Is the news
an accurate portrayal of where we are as a society?'
Which leads to another question, 'Is it possible for daily news to give such a picture?'
Murders, rapes and
fires (even unemployment figures) are not the only way to assess the progress
(or regress) of a society. Why are there so few television stories about
symphonies that have been composed, novels written, scientific problems
solved, and a thousand other creative acts that occur during the course
of a month? Were television news to be filled with these events, we would
not be frightened. We would be inspried, optimistic, cheerful.
However, these events make poor television news because there is so little to show about them. In the judgment of most editors, people watch television, and what they are interested in watching are exciting, intriguing, even exotic pictures.
It is not accident that in the television news industry, the short blurb aimed at getting you to watch a program is called a 'tease', which may intrigue you enough to part with your time instead of a dime.
You might hear an anchor
introduce a story by saying: 'Today Congress ordered an investigation of
the explosive issue of whether Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign made
a deal with Iran in 1980 to delay the release of American hostages until
after the election.'
This statement is largely descriptive but includes the judgmental word 'explosive' as part of the report. If, in the same news report, we were told that the evidence for such a secret deal is weak and that only an investigation with subpoena power can establish the truth, we must know that we have left the arena of factual language and have moved into the land of inference.
The backbone, the heart, the soul, the fuel, the DNA (choose whatever metaphor you wish) of nonpublic television in America is the commercial.
Audience size is by
no means the only factor advertisers are interested in. Even more important
The news audience is a highly desirable one. People who watch news tend to more attentive to what is on screen. They tend to be better educated and have more money to spend than the audiences for other shows.They are a prime target for advertisers trying to reach an affluent market.
Commericals are not fluff. They are a serious form of popular literature, some would even say a serious form of news. Commercials tells us as much about our society as 'straight' news does, probably more. We suspect that archaeologists studying the artifacts of American culture 200 years from now will find our commercials the richest source of information about our fears, motivations and exultations.
Some Americans believe that anything and everything ought to be on television. Many television journalists come close to believing that, and usually defend their view by mumbling something about the 'public's right to know'. How much the 'public' has a right to know, and when and why and how are, in fact, troubling questions. Does the public have a right to see and hear what goes on in a Confessional box?
Below we have listed recommendations which you may find useful in adjusting your relation to TV news shows. We have not included among them the most effective strategy, which is to move to Switzerland. Some people have thought of this but the Swiss are very particular about who they let in, so it is impractical.
More Quotes >> from Reviews >> from American TV commentator Tim Goodman
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