Growing up in South Africa, there was one thing that everybody knew – that British TV was fantastic. Real comedy, quality shows, and expert documentaries. Fawlty Towers, Absolutely Fabulous, ‘Allo ‘Allo, Only Fools and Horses, anything involving David Attenborough and a few others we only heard about. Because that’s largely all we ever got to do – due to the Equity Ban, there was no legal way of getting to see all this material. Short of making the trip there and bringing some of it back.
So, one moves to the UK with certain expectations of the quality of the TV programming. Especially since the SABC manages to procure (and produce) such utter tripe that there literally can’t be anything worse than South African TV. Except that there is – and it’s called British TV. There are a few trends that can easily be picked out (because they completely overwhelm anything else that gets shown):
- Cooking shows
- Music shows
- Reality shows involving cooking
- Reality shows involving music
- Re-runs of American TV shows
And that’s about it, really. Lets just take one or two of those as an example, so you can see what I’m on about. Cooking shows that I can think of off the top of my head include Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals, Nigella’s kitchen, Ramsay’s best restaurant, Masterchef, The Hairy Bikers and The Great British Bake-off (which admittedly was somewhat watchable). There are actually a few “Masterchef” type programmes – you’ll have a few aspiring chefs getting tossed into a kitchen, and they get asked to cook something in a short amount of time, and one gets kicked out, and the others go “phew” and get to do it all again next week. But they’re so formulaic (the interminable wait before they name who gets kicked off the show, the interviews before – “Ooh, I’m so nervous, but this is my life, and I’m going to knock their socks off, and I’m so confident, and I don’t know what to say, so I’ll make sure that I ramble on and on and hopefully the editor will be asleep and won’t cut me out cause all I really want is TV time” – and after – “Ooh, I’m so nervous, I really messed it up completely, but hopefully the judges won’t think I’m a useless idiot, because I don’t think I am, even though I can’t cook to save my life, and they really should take me out back and end it all before I make another comment about how cooking is my life, and even if I do get kicked out, I’m going to keep on with it”).
But I digress. I’ll admit that one or two of these shows are great, and they have their place in society (I’ll refrain from saying “barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen”), but when there are two or three of them on every night, you want to scream. It might even be fine if the general quality of food produced by people at home was brought up a notch or two as a result, but do you know anyone who actually uses the recipes from cooking shows? Hands up ladies if you’ve ever watched one, and gone “Hey – that looks great!” and then actually used that recipe in real life? Thought so – it just doesn’t happen. Well, not in the universe that I inhabit.
Another category is has-been US shows. There’s a channel dedicated almost entirely to old, crusty episodes of Friends. There’s one that seems to show nothing but re-runs of CSI (in various flavours, including NCIS). There are also channels which show repeats of shows on other channels, which appear to be repeats of the shows on the repeat channel, but at different times. This gives the appearance of there being two different channels, but they’re really the same, just going round in circles in an infinite loop of mediocrity.
It could probably be argued that the TV produced is just what the population is looking for, but then I’d have to counter that the British population must be utter idiots. If all it takes to make you happy is to show you someone better than you doing something that you can’t, but eventually failing (so that you can say “Well, if it was me, I’d have got through), then you’re well catered for around here.
The only worthwhile shows I’ve seen are Top Gear (and only the bits where they don’t bring cars into it) and Have I Got News For You (I’ll give them this one – it beats Last Say on Sunday hands down). The jury’s still out on The Gadget Show, and I’m about to watch James May’s Man Lab, which looks like it might be something that Cilla would hate (thereby rendering my opinion thereof irrelevant).