Friday, July 22, 2005

BBC America and its discontents

I hesitated setting up a personal blog for many reasons. Primarily, I got through phases where I am wanting to write something of substance but lack the will (read: too bloody lazy) to really work out the ideas in a cogent way. Secondly, I feel the urge at times to say trivial things of little important. In other words, what 90% of other bloggers do. For example, today I want to write something about BBC America programming rather than the London bombings, Bush’s choice for Supreme Court Justice, the Downing Street memos, the price of oil, etc. Call it leisure guilt but I sometimes (SOMETIMES) am overcome with the romantic notion that these text spaces are of value only if they speak of global things and to trivialize it with talk of the lack of The Avengers on the Friday night line up, the leaking of the new Depeche Mode song, or the genius of David O. Russell’s “I Heart Huckabees” just seems irresponsible. Why not just post to Craigs list “Rants and Raves” and be done with it?

But then it occurred to me that no one will ever read this space so who cares?

Why does BBC America hate it’s viewership? Why don’t they just devote their entire schedule to What Not to Wear, Cash in the Attic, and Footballers Wives? Oh, I forgot, they already do.

I don’t ask for much out of life, and yes, I could watch less television than I do, but I recently caught a rare, incurable disease called myoliteratae – the inability to read anything longer than a comic book. I blame this on my James Joyce seminar of two semesters ago. I have islands of sanity in this life – cheap wine, chunky peanut butter, Soulseek, JLU, and Friday nights of The Avengers on BBC America. Two hours of Steed and Peel (or Steed and King. I was not a purest. I found both ladies have their charms.). Eleven to midnight then midnight to one, then a lovely sleep with dream of lead-filled bowler hats, trounced would-be saboteurs, and funny, sexy, kung fu-ing heroines.

BBC Am. started this routine two months ago. Lovely. I had never been an Avengers fan prior to this, but there was something lovely about the weekly routine of elegance and wit that kept me looking forward to week’s end. I was hooked. Now, scanning my program guide I see that they are instead featuring a marathon of something called Footballers Wives followed by something called Prime Suspect. Now, I am sure these shows have their own following, but aren’t there enough programming hours during the week to feature all these shows? I mean, how does it serve a Prime Suspect fan to not be able to plan a viewing when the broadcast plan keep moving? Do the program planner even care about viewership?

Similar annoyances and disappointments abound with other BBCA shows – Goodness Gracious Me, Look Around You, The Kumars, Black Books, etc – but I assumed the lack of these shows over a consistent period owed more to the relatively few episodes available. Look Around You, for example, are very brief segments of about 10 minutes. They are only a few years old and there simply aren’t that many of them. But The Avengers was on for nearly a decade, surely they could plug even a consistent hour of the show on the channel on a weekly basis.
Cable TV really is becoming a wasteland, isn’t it? I bark at the BBCA but it’s an epidemic of idiocy. Too many channels, to little programming. How many sport channels do we have? Ten? Why should there be 12 poker shows on at the same time? Now they are showing competitive eating on ESPN. Who is really interested in watching cars being rebuilt? Who is that audience? I am sure its out there… but is it that sizeable? Even National Geographic is dumbing down – the shows seem to be about “extreme” nature and why you should be scared shitless of it. Very different than the magazine.

And what the hell happened to A&E, TLC, and Bravo? When did “Arts and Entertainment” come to mean 18 hours (I subtract the infomercials they run overnight) of poker contests between D list celebrities, humiliation-based “reality” shows with E list celebrities, murder investigation shows and celebrity exposes? Look, I’m not expecting marathon runnings of Mansfield Park or a Robert Bresson marathon, I just want truth in advertising. Even Pro Wrestling had the good graces to change it’s tag to “Sports Entertainment.”

Bottom-line mentalities in corporate board rooms erode cultural diversity.

But kudos to a few good players. Cartoon Network and Boomerang offer a quality product. I am not by nature a huge fan of animation but if it’s “the good stuff” I can be corralled. What I admire, especially about Boomerang, is its clarity of vision. Basically the producers are saying “look, we’ve got nearly 100 years of short animation here. Why not watch some of it?” Boomerang, at least in the US, is commercial free. This is a huge relief to non-Tivo folks like me. The commercials on cable TV are perhaps the most banal cultural artifact we can possible generate – diet pills, crap gadgets, real estate schemes, you name it. And, although the programming itself is hit or miss – I can’t stand more than 5 minutes of any Hanna Barbara ‘toon – there is plenty else to admire.
So what was the point of this rant? Mostly to organize my thoughts on the subject. Deeper meaning may be forthcoming…

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