Sunday, July 09, 2006

Oh dear, another rant about the BBC!

It's somewhat embarrassing, given how many friends I have who work at the place, to have to rant yet again about the BBC, but the Radio 2 News yesterday morning really got my goat!

There used to be a time when the BBC could be relied on to provide unbiased, short and to-the-point news. The web site has always had its fair share of 'And the latest from Big Brother is...' tabloid-gossip news items, but I guess that can be justified since it provides some sort of service to those on holiday abroad, desperate to get their fix of who's been evicted and when.

But then the TV news got in on the act and suddenly in place of the latest from around the world, we started being treated to the likes of such 'news stories' as 'David Bowie is playing a concert this weekend'. I know from real and bitter experience of my time working for a record label, that there has always been an unsavoury stench of what can at best be called 'favours to friends', and at worst, 'scandalous backhanders', at least where Radio 1 playlists and Top of the Pops appearances are concerned. But promoting music concerts as 'news' on a public-funded service seems to me to be a step too far in the wrong direction.

And now even Radio 2's hourly news bulletin is showing the promotional dumbing-down of its content.

Yesterday, under the pretext of 'news' on the hourly news bulletin we got a long segment, endlessly promoting the actress Billie Piper, the pretext for this being that Saturday night saw the airing of her 'departure' episode from Doctor Who (she'll be back for a guest appearance, assuming the series isn't cancelled after its fourth annual outing, when her 'glittering career' inevitably fails, trust me on this!).

Aside from the gossipy 'news' that she had been paid more than the TV series 'lead' David Tennant (if I were his agent I'd be on the phone spitting blood), we got a load of a "publicity agent's dream" nonsense about how in demand this actress was, how Hollywood was calling, and of course, in the wake of supermarket till sales of 'wannabe' biographies like Jordan (God help us and this ridiculous cult of celebrity!), how much money she was going to make from her forthcoming biography. If this was a 'news' story, what was it trying to tell us? It was ridiculous gossip magazine puff, promoting an actress way beyond her ability and actual achievements. It was a sales person for a celebrity getting a free advert to convince us its product was actually A-list rather than C-list. It had NOTHING to do with news, and demonstrates how much the BBC news service, which used to be rightly admired for being the best in the world, has lost its way!

All of which brings me onto the afore-mentioned Doctor Who finale last night. The fan boys are raving about it, and I'd have to acknowledge the 'emotional' segment of the story which ended the episode was excellent stuff. Alas, its good work was completely trashed with the much-too-hasty switch from sadness and melancholy to a teaser for the Christmas episode this year - the appearance of a ridiculous 'Am I bovvered?' Catherine Tate character completely undoing all the hard work put in by the preceding 10 minutes of drama. Such drama, I would call it more 'soap' actually, albeit very well written and performed 'soap', isn't necessarily Doctor Who in the traditional sense, but it was great viewing. However the basic 'cybermen vs daleks war' that preceded it was so puny, so UNscary and UNfrightening, so poorly contrived in terms of pace and mood, so poorly scored in terms of music, that it weakened decades of work put in building up real, scary foes that have become icons across the world. As if that wasn't bad enough we got daleks telling 'jokes' about design and 'pest control' that wouldn't be used by kids in a playground, never mind supposedly 'evil incarnate' aliens. I found myself looking at the screen through partially closed fingers, just as I had done as a child when watching William Hartnell in black and white - but for completely different reasons. There were some great 'yahoo' moments, but there were also far too many 'Oh God, that's really naff' moments too - moments that just shouldn't have been there on a show that has this much investment of time and resources in it.

Shooting on the third series (or at least the Christmas prequel) has already started, and confirmation of a fourth season is undoubtedly on the way, but beyond that....? Even the fanboys are admitting that, overall, the second series has been pretty disappointing. If I were trying to be kind I'd call it 'lacklustre', but I'm not kind and frankly it's lazy, it's weak and too often just downright plain naff! This is all the more infuriating after some real moments of greatness in the first series. But the BBC are going to have to do something pretty drastic to get it back on track in my view and loyalty isn't enough to commit to it these days. The problems are not just in the weak stories (with Russel T Davis' own episodes being the worst by far) and the endless pathetic deus ex machina endings (the 'sonic screwdriver' getout has been used way beyond being knowingly ironic), but are on show in much of the dialogue which goes for unfunny pop-culture references much too often, in the way Tennant plays Who as an over-gurning comedian with no real depth or sense of being a 'time lord', the poor acting of the subsidiary character parts each week, and the endless over-loud use of bombastic, totally inappropriate music that goes against the flow of the story where it should be going with it to enhance the mood. Perhaps most importantly of all, more important than getting a script editor who understands Who rather than just being a fan of it, this show needs a director who knows how to direct his cast and make a limited budget show look exciting. When putting the biggest 'bad guys' in over 30 years of TV history on screen together results in as unexciting and frankly 'average' an event as last night's 'big bucks finale' proved to be, there is clearly something wrong with those at the top making the decisions! Even the best episodes this series (the Moffat episode was, just as with Series One, the stand out) have not been THAT far off mediocre, and that isn't good enough given the amount of money, hype, advertising and talent that's been thrown at this series.


Scrooge said...

Some good points here. I too share your dislike for some of the things you've mentioned. In addition, here's a few about the pushing of ex-Eastenders cast members in their own shows, the endless use of the actresses that the writers used to fancy thirty years ago and on the news front, making the subject of 'Panorama' into a news item in order to plug it. TheBeeb doesn't just report on the news, it makes it up iteself !

Ian said...

Ah yes, I'd forgotten the endless Panorama promotions. And then we could talk about the cost of all those billboards - expensive ads promoting something it's impossible to avoid anyway.

In its defence the BBC will no doubt argue that it has to "compete" in a global marketplace. The trouble is you only have to look at the recently leaked, outrageously high salaries to realise that the pace for the competition isn't happening naturally - it's being forced by the BBC with our money!

I understand the BBC will be announcing a very high number of redundancies this coming Wednesday. I wonder how many of those being made redundant could have their jobs saved by just getting Jonathan Ross' salary down to a competitive market rate!