It’s late on a Saturday afternoon so, as convention dictates, BBC One is summarising the football scores. It’s hard to know what to make of this. Many of us have fond memories of watching the scores rolling in at the end of the afternoon, but does this programme continue to be relevant? A lot of football, let alone other sport, is conducted at times other than Saturday afternoon, and there’s a whole channel dedicated to reporting sporting results in the form of Sky Sports News. Still, it’s live current affairs, and it’s still well-done, so that a couple of boxes ticked.
BBC Two, however, seems to have periods of not really knowing what it’s for – one such period is on a Saturday from about Midday round to the watershed. Occasionally Auntie is lucky enough to have more simultaneous sport than can be covered on a single channel, and Two gets the overflow… but today is no such day. It’s always been this way, of course, and maybe that’s why it has slipped from our concious attention. But every so often some bright young things are accidentally given licence to schedule and have a crack at beating back the afternoon’s scree of black-and-whites. Having seen Channel 4‘s apparent success with so-called “teen” programming, the bright young things have gone for an unashamedly similar approach mixing imported teen drama with a music show. Bless.
The thing you have to like about ITV is they so rarely surprise you. In fact, you don’t even really need to look at the schedules to know what’s on. More impressive still is that they’ve managed to multiply this dreary monotony over four channels. So, at 5pm today, ITV1 has… all together now… a Bond movie! ITV2 and ITV4 attempt to bring reality rashing right to your front room, again, with repeats of Holiday Airport and Police Stop respectively – meanwhile ITV3 repeats an episode of Pie in the Sky, a light-hearted drama from the days when there was only one ITV, that alternated between garish gameshows and light-hearted dramas.
Channel 4 have also taken the opportunity presented by the shuffle towards digital broadcasting to turn their single, sturdy, coherently-named TV station into a little family. So now we have 4, More 4, Yet More 4, What’s This 4, and so forth. Yesterday they celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary, something they’ve been cracking on about for weeks and weeks as it provides the perfect excuse to run repeats in the name of nostalgia. The fact that this anniversary has now passed hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm, as the nostalgia keeps on coming: at 5 we’ll be treated to a “special” edition of long-running weekday teatime quiz Countdown. This was the first show ever broadcast on Channel 4, and this (or maybe its ability to nest into otherwise dead gaps in the schedule) seems to have made it immune from cancellation.
On the other Fours, some predictable treats. The strategy here is clearly based on that of the ITVs: no alarms and no surprises. On E4 at 5 we find ourselves sandwiched between a couple of staples – an omnibus of insufferable teen-soap Hollyoaks and a double-bill of ingeniously-trashy imported sitcom Friends. Many, many students up and down the country will be using this stuff as a sobering aid, so good luck to them. Meanwhile, Film 4 is rolling out The Jungle Book… no, not the Disney one with the singing monkeys, we’re talking about the mid-war live-action one. I’m sure the channel would argue that it’s a classic, but secretly we all know they’re falling into the same woe as BBC Two at this time of day. But who cares – nobody’s watching anyway.
On More 4 is the highly objectionable property show Relocation, Relocation – the Fours have mastered this property-related crap, and attack more or less the same thing from eight or nine different angles: buying homes, selling homes, redecorating homes, building homes, redeveloping homes, moving abroad, building abroad, etc etc. However, some people really like and appreciate this stuff, so I’m happy to admit that I should just back off and leave them to it – after all, not all shows can, nor should, appeal to all people. Amazingly, though, our intersection of the schedule could have fallen at any time from just after half-two to just before eight, and we’d have hit an episode of the same obnoxious programme. Anyone who can stomach so much of this self-absorbed and self-important assault on one’s own intelligence is clearly a valuable yet untapped resource and should be taken from in-front of their telly and given something difficult to do.
Hardest of all for these people will have been choosing between this particular televisual avalanche and another on a similar theme, from two until eight on Five Life: Property Developing Abroad. Those outside the UK may not be familiar with Channel 5 (sorry, Five, as it’s been re-branded – I wonder how they came up with that), but it’s the youngest and very much the runt of our old terrestrial broadcasters, which has even more recently broken into three. Five itself is, at times, surprisingly watchable, but usually only because they’ve managed to buy in something half-decent from across the pond. It’s a little too early in the day for that yet, so it’s still stuck in the Saturday afternoon doldrums with the likes of BBC 2 and Film 4, airing Moby Dick to be Followed by the lousy Poseidon Adventure sequel. Yeah, there’s a sequel. It’s lousy.
You might assume that the two spawn of Five, so-called “lifestyle” (read: targeting middle-aged women) channel Five Life and imports-only Five US would also be dross. Certainly Five Life is appalling (concerned that not being a middle-aged woman may bias my opinion, I bothered to confirm this with my mother), but Five US is actually a bit of a quiet victory. While bigger, better-funded channels hold bidding wars over the big American drama series such as Lost and Heroes, Five US does a reasonable job of going after the some of the cheaper, less trumpeted shows. At 5pm, then, we find ourselves leaving clumsy but watchable one-series wonder Windfall, and embarking on the truly excellent (Sherlock Holmes reworked into a) medical-drama House.
Outside the old firm, if you will, are a handful of channels don’t have roots in analogue terrestrial broadcasting. As cable companies NTL and Telewest became ntl:Telewest and then Virgin Media, production wing Flextech became Virgin Television, and FTN became Virgin 1. Although intended, presumably, to go on to rival the other “ones” (BBC One, Sky One, and so on), all this clever re-branding has done little to bolster the output. So at 5pm we are treated to the World’s Most Amazing Videos – the kind of amateur footage show that costs about a fiver to make and is then syndicated worldwide to low-budget channels. Even so, you can’t help thinking they could have left the screen blank for an hour, spent the money on a couple of cans of cola and some crisps, and nobody would have really minded.
Another of these apparent misfits is the delightfully-named Dave: a channel aimed at young men that sprung up a few days ago after a bit of a reshuffle of the UKTV family, and I have to say seems to be going rather well. At 5pm they’ll be trotting out Top Gear repeats, which is a sure-fire winner with the target audience. It’s just a bit of a shame that it’ll be one of the three episodes they’ve been broadcasting for most of the day. Still, points for effort.