After a 23 year career in television, our Editor, Welshman Phil Parry, is disturbed by research which indicates the high-water mark may have been reached in edgy, boundary-pushing, broadcasting.
Earlier Phil has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of history and teaching the subject is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
For people like me, who have worked in television, this is a worrying time.
New research which has just been released suggests the limit of television which broke the mould and pushed boundaries, may have been reached in the ’90s and noughties.
Now it seems to be more about chasing ratings, easy ‘celebrity’-driven programmes, and down-market soaps which get high audience figures while keeping advertisers happy.
In my own sphere (Current Affairs) the picture is particularly dark as so many highly-regarded series’ have been scrapped altogether, or have plunged down-market.
On the BBC we used to have, for example, Public Eye, Week In Week Out (on both of which I have worked), Rough Justice and Assignment.
In the independent sector the cull has been extremely severe too – World in Action, This Week, First Tuesday, and The Big Story have all closed their doors.
But it hasn’t just been journalistic programmes which have dumbed down – entertainment ones as well, and Peter Biskind argues in ‘Pandora’s Box’ (a binge-worthy book about TV), that the risky, rule-breaking shows which defined television in the late 20th, and early 21st centuries are giving way to less original fare
Some of the people who helped to create TV’s ‘golden age’ are downbeat about its future.
For instance, HBO “died at 50”, Michael Fuchs, who ran the network in the 1980s, tells Mr Biskind.
“There’s no longer an HBO”, declares the producer of ‘The Wire’, one of HBO’s grittiest and most celebrated shows. He says the company would never make it today.
Streaming certain shows which appear to attract huge audiences has also been the centre of attention for the bean-counters, so that alternative programmes on cable (which could get smaller audiences, yet may in future be viewed as classics) have taken a hit.
With hundreds of millions of subscribers, the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have bigger audiences than any broadcaster, but one worrying example of the apparent new trend for them, is the prevalence of sports programmes.
Amazon has shelled out huge sums for the rights to American football, and Netflix will air its first live sporting event (a celebrity golf tournament) this month.
Streamers and cable firms are also becoming like film studios by developing a dependence on franchises and sequels.
HBO which long resisted spin-offs and prequels, has embraced a ‘Sex and the City’ reboot and multiple ‘Game of Thrones’ spin-offs, including animations and a stage play.
Advertising has made a comeback, too, as streamers try to squeeze more dollars out of subscribers.
Most streamers now release new shows weekly to keep subscribers on board for longer.
Netflix (which used to be known for its pioneering output), is one which is moving this way, by dripping out episodes of some new shows.
This is the changing face of television today.
But the picture is not a good one…
Details of Phil’s astonishing decades-long journalistic career (including his years in the ‘golden age’ of television as it may be known in future), as he was gripped by the incurable neurological condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in an important book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now.
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.
Tomorrow – why Phil has always known that foreign stories, especially in television where it is so easy to switch over, must be made RELEVANT to the people hearing about them in Wales – and this is now emphasised by news today that the USA is confronting Iran over the appalling attack on Israeli citizens by Hamas