Back in 1968, when I started out, there were only three channels, no satellites or downloads, no YouTube, no day-time television, no naked boobs, no chat shows.
Since then I’ve had huge fun working in front of and behind the cameras. My job has taken me behind the scenes of great and glorious events, into hidden places and remote hide-outs, and I’ve met heroes, villains and the funny, compassionate “ordinary” people of Britain.
How radically television has changed. Rude interviewers, humiliating formats and unfair editing often reveal a contempt for programme-makers’ subjects and for their viewers.
Take Britain’s Got Talent, which started its second series on Saturday to an audience of ten million. Here we saw wannabe performers ranging from the brilliant to the absurd. Some were treated with compassion; other were booted off ignominiously. While I find myself horribly mesmerised by the most grotesque – and least talented – acts, I wonder why it has to have this edge of cruelty.
Is it just coincidence that bullying is the biggest single problem children bring to ChildLine, with 37,000 calls from deeply distressed victims last year alone? Bullying flourishes not just in schools but on our screens, and it’s glorified. Once, it would not have been tolerated.
Shows such as The Weakest Link have all garnered huge success by creating a modern theatre of cruelty in which contestants are humiliated – and coarsened audiences laugh at their expense. Some programmes, such as The Jerry Springer Show, seem deliberately to dehumanise them. The schedules are dotted with films about men and women with diseases or disabilities, who are treated like freaks. We are live in the era of “Mean TV”. These are forums sustained by the overweening modern obsession with celebrity, in which people of little talent make fools of themselves chasing a hopeless dream.
The best programmes – and there are many – prove that the skills which informed programme making in the Sixties are still there.
The brilliance of The Apprentice turns each Wednesday night into an event. The glitz and glamour of Strictly Come Dancing warms our winter Saturday nights and has been sold around the world, topping the ratings everywhere. Yes, these are reality shows, but they are also beautifully produced. So the good news is that great programmes are still being made.
All the medium needs to do for its survival is to restore respect. Respect for the people who take part in programmes, respect for the standards of honesty and integrity and, above all, respect for the audiences. Only then will the television industry regain our respect, and the pride of place in our lives it had, back in the dawn of television time 40 years ago.
1. Read the article.
2. Sum up Rantzen’s argument in one or two sentences.
3. Look at paragraphs one and two.
• How does Rantzen introduce her argument?
• Using this as an example, what advice might you give to a student trying to write a similar introduction?
4. Look at the final paragraph.
• How does Rantzen conclude her article?
• Using this as an example, what advice might you give to a student trying to write a similar conclusion?
5. What are the key points in this article?
6. Where in the paragraph are they placed?
7. What evidence does Rantzen use to strengthen her argument?
8. Rantzen is not entirely negative on the subject – how do her positive comments about opposing opinions strengthen her own?