Posted by Ian
There’s never been one particular ‘golden age’ of television. Rather, the golden age began when TV was invented, and continues to this day.
TV isn’t worse than it used to be, just different. There only seems to be more bad stuff around because there are more channels around. The ratio of quality:dross programmmes on telly is more or less the same as it’s always been. When there were only three channels to choose from it might have been easier to ignore the poor telly simply because telly wasn’t such a ubiquitous presence in our lives. Nowadays we might have to work harder to avoid it, but it doesn’t follow there are less decent alternatives.
Television has expanded to fill the space made available to it, and I’m sure nobody but nobody would wish for the days when there weren’t any programmes before lunchtime and TV closed down before midnight.
The sheer amount of television available to the viewer now is breathtaking and to be thoroughly applauded. TV informs, educates and entertains us about the world in ways unimaginable even ten years ago. We have information at our fingertips – or rather, at the click of a button on a hoofer doofer – the like of which is unparalleled in history.
Rolling news services supply us with the headlines instantly rather than at strict times squeezed awkwardly into the schedule. An entire channel is devoted to showing us what happens inside Parliament. It seems absurd that this wasn’t the case less than a decade ago. More of us have access to more mainstream and alternative films than ever before. More of us have access to challenging documentaries and pioneering current affairs than ever before. More children’s television, with production values easily surpassing anything witnessed in my youth, is available to younger viewers than ever before. More high quality UK drama populates the schedules than ever before. More glossy light entertainment is wheeled out across the networks than for a generation. And proportionately more sport is available to the nation, for free, than in the history of television itself.
You can find all of the above on the main terrestrial and digital channels. If you have Freeview, for instance, you’re rarely a few minutes from a bit of decent television. There’s something fantastic on BBC4 every night. There’s at least one must-see landmark film on Film4 every day. There’s something entertaining on More4 every night. Switch to BBC News 24 for the best rolling news service around. Even if you don’t have digital, though, BBC1 and BBC2 are the finest mainstream channels in the business, treating us to well-made, diverse and thoughtful programmes every day and night of the week.
Bad television inevitably catches our attention more than good. This is simply by definition. Human instinct is to notice a car crash rather than a car driving safely along a road. Newspapers seize on the most extreme telly currently around because they wouldn’t sell copies if they praised the redoubtable and the worthy. Bad television challenges the viewer to, in a phrase familiar to everyone of a certain age, find something less boring instead.
The TV of our formative years – in my case, the late 1970s and 1980s – did what it could do and was supposed to do extremely well, while the TV of today does what it can and is expected to do extremely well also.
You don’t have a passive relationship with your TV set. You take from it what you want, and make of it what you want. It’s up to you whether you want to enjoy a programme or not, and not the fault of the programme itself. To slag off contemporary TV just because it’s contemporary says more about the person doing the criticising than the object of their scorn. TV will always be great, because it’s TV, and it’s a wonderful, magical creation.