The show must go on: The BBC on trial?
I couldn’t help noticing in the Saturday Grauniad that public trust in the BBC has taken quite a battering in the wake of its recent run of ‘scandal’. Now it seems to me that a handful of technical production failures with idiotic phone ins (think of how many there are daily) over a period of years combined with some stupid workprint editing at an independent production house should not sully decades of greatness. It certainly seems unimpressive compared to GMTV’s day-glo, gurn-based systematic fleecing of £10m+ from gullible viewers.
In fact, a basic part of showbusiness is an improvisational mentality when things go wrong: Grab Bob from Finance if the phone lines are down to pose as a winner so that the entertainment value is not spoiled for all. Broadcasters the world over must have to do this all the time. It would have been morally better to admit the problem and move on, but one can sympathise with the notion that entertaining the audience requires an illusion of things running smoothly.
The real scandal is that the BBC relies so much on cheap, overly populist and patronising formats where phone in competitions are the focus rather than anything Reith would have recognised. I read today that the BBC’s Head of Television recently mistook the mildly amusing novelty series ‘Faking It’ for documentary. One fears that the legacy of Arena et al is in gave peril when left in such candy floss covered hands.
The bind the BBC has long been in is that popular tastes must be satisfied to the point that the license fee (which I would pay for Radio 4 alone) and the precious opt-out from pure market driven broadcasting that comes from it remains politically viable.
However, by chasing ratings to the point that ITV has been battered out of the ring, the BBC has lost much of its unique relevance. Rather than sending producers on ‘trust’ courses so that they can feel suicidal about a few pence lost on premium phone ins, a new emphasis on doing what the market cannot or will not to educate, inform and entertain must be discovered.
Somehow I doubt it as low production costs combined with juicy revenues mean phone ins have a secure future.