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Repeats, reruns, reboots and archives

June 22, 2012

We used to get home and groan “There are only repeats on TV tonight!” but now that British TV has so many channels to schedule, it’s a “golden age” for repeats and reruns. Of course the television is too much with us anyway and there was a time when the chance of missing a favourite show might have lent a certain allure. Executives still dream of creating “appointment to view” television, when millions will clear a space and be united by their devotion to a soap, Dr Who, The Forsyte Saga or whatever. Some people still watch TV that way. They might well have been put out by the rescheduling of the Eastenders omnibus. But thanks to scheduled reshowings, “Plus One” channels, stations’ own player and on demand sites and other TV catch up services sensible people, albeit those who watch too much television, can watch what they like when they like, within limits, of course. Devotees of “Desperate Housewives”, for example, have just 18  days left to catch its last ever episode on 4OD before they’ll have to buy the dvd or blue ray edition, await further repeats or venture into the murky world of shareware and pirated versions online. You’d have to really love a show to go to any trouble for it, or be a sadly obsessive completist. Desperate broadcasters try to give well established shows an appearance of freshness by alerting the public to “new” episodes of shows well into their latest season.

In the broadcasting world any kind of live event takes pride of place. Broadcasters inflate the importance of their trivia and gossip with the clarion call “It’s happening now (or soon)!”

Sports fixtures or other opportunities for making a wager have a built in appeal, so vile interactive gaming shows dominate several channels’ late night schedules. TV dramatists or viewers might take this on board and add excitement to their shows by creating little side bets on when a particular storyline will be resolved (if ever!) or when a beloved character will next utter their catchphrase or otherwise perform. Dramatic art may be pushed aside by “interactive drama”, a likely consequence of viewers flexing the muscles developed by “reality” shows, with invitations to participate (providing income streams for broadcasters) such as the phone voting used on Big Brother and its descendants, which are themselves dramas of a sort which do not depend on their creators’ imagination and so will submit more easily to uncreative exploitation. Increasing numbers seem to prefer the spurious control offered by those new narratives, computer games.

Still, it’s a resource, this great library of past broadcasts, and it may be that standards will greatly improve as television creatives have the chance to study and restudy the classics that carry particular meaning for them. It could happen! Or the odds of anyone coming up with completely fresh TV drama will be reduced.

If it’s not a deliberate remake – sorry, “reimagining” or reboot – of popular shows such as “Upstairs Downstairs” or, good heavens, “Dallas”, then one can usually trace the forerunners of what’s on offer. “It’s not as good as the original”, one might say, and have recourse to channels such as ITV3 (though one questions if there is any real demand for “On the Buses” from any quarter) or the archives that now exist elsewhere. It’s hard enough to persuade anyone below a certain age to take a black and white movie seriously, as technology, presentation styles and notions of what’s acceptable continue to change. Which brings us to the question: How good was classic television anyway, and can it survive as art worthy of our attention longer than the memory of those who first saw it? Perhaps those great archives of past TV are only fit to be shredded for historical documentaries and to help define generations past.


From → Critic

  1. D’You wanna fight about it?


    • No, but if you’re after a police style brawl, please go softly softly, and if it’s a western one then I shall refer to the high chapparel (sp?). Mano could beat Trampas any day!


  2. Lots of classic TV was great at the time, but not all survives rewatching. Good: Only Fools & Horses, Midsomer Murders, 7-Up (especially), some early Plays for Today, Z-cars for example, but not The Good Life, Butterflies, Howard’s Way. Agree about On the Buses, but I do know someone who still adores it (and he’s younger than you!). Dixon of Dock Green survives but easy to mock in the light of today’s policing. Nice post, anyway.


    • Z Cars was a blight on my youth! The other show that bored me to tears was “The Virginian”. On the other hand, The Good Life, of which there was a repeat the other day, still seems amusing, if a bit twee; call it “Gardener’s World” for lazy shallow people!


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