Remotely Interested – The Laziness of Success

Posted on September 27, 2010


Success really is the curse of television. That might seem like a moronic statement but bear with me. Most television shows start with a handful of ideas to carry them through a first series and usually hit turbulent times when the networks realise they have a hit and throw many at the production crew to carry on past what may have been a well regarded series. A notorious recent example of this is Heroes, the U.S superhero drama which started immensely stronger but ended up being stretched into four seasons of repetitious melodrama and ended with lower ratings than if NBC had decided to screen twenty three hours of George W. Bush punching a rabbit in the face instead. 
In the history of British television, the majority of our best loved and well thought of classics are those which have ended on their own terms and left the audience wanting more instead of hanging on to deserting viewers like a particularly stubborn genital infection. Everyone always points to Basil Fawlty and his eponymous towers to demonstrate this point but closer to today there are still plenty of examples. For Instance, Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson’s seminal anti-sitcom Spaced ended after only two series of sharp observation and a nerdgasm inducing devotion to pop culture referencing. Similarly Black Books and Father Ted both ended after three series when they were at the height of their acclaim. Its not a concept exclusive to comedy however, as the highly acclaimed Our Friends In The North and State Of Play both told their finite stories and despite later spinning off into the 80’s, Life On Mars told the story of John Simm’s Sam Tyler over two years before graciously bowing out as one of the BBC’s biggest successes of the new millennium. 
It seems to be a concept more common to the U.K than the U.S, where drama runs until its put down and comedy will always strive to reach the ten year mark (ample time apparently for any group of people to settle down with one another, sort out all the problems in their life and reflect on the people they were before the inevitable off screen meltdowns, type casting and rapid ageing), but no matter which side of the pond you are sitting on there is no question that a long lifespan does nothing for a show’s creativity, especially supposedly serious shows. It has to be said that we here in Britain are especially good at taking an originally serialised show and turning it into a soap opera , because, you know, we simply don’t have enough of them. Casualty, Holby City, The Bill and Waterloo Road all started out as fairly small series which would air once a year but now, with the exception of the now defunct police drama, they are ubiquitous and harder to avoid than charity muggers, being as they are on for roughly fifty weeks out of every year. Waterloo road is slightly less regularly but since it would fail even a Toyota quality assessment test it feels like it drags on for endless, unyielding, wintry eternities.
The problem is that these shows like to think that they mirror our normal lives, that they are going through the same problems that we do in our office cubicles. In all honesty though, Corrie rarely has a three week story line where the heating breaks in the factory so the girls have to make mittens out of old hosiery, nor does Emmerdale’s Andy ever worry about subsidised farming or get his fingers trapped up a cow’s nether-regions (I’m assuming this is an every day danger for farmers.). No, instead the soaps like to reflect our lives by consistently ramming some of the largest personal tragedies that anyone can be unfortunate enough to befall down the viewers throats (all in the name of entertainment don’t forget) at least ten times in any given year, with most of those coming at Christmas, the season to be Jolly. Child death, knife crime, arson, drug overdoses, suicide and the lazy writer’s favourite disease du jour, cancer.
The overuse of cancer on television in particularly has seriously started to get on my proverbials as not only is it one of the most horrifyingly common, life-threatening conditions of our times ,but it is now seen purely as an easy way of wringing emotional involvement out of an audience. Cynical doesn’t begin to cover it. Last Christmas, Corrie’s Sally Webster struggled with breast cancer and announced it to the family on Christmas Day over the roast spuds and cranberry source and even more recently Eastenders justified Barbara Windsor’s pay-cheque by giving her an arbitrary scare. Even Brother’s And Sister’s, the nauseatingly syrupy U.S family drama, had a Cancer story this year just so one of the characters had something to do.
Yes I know telly likes to deal with people’s issues and I’m not saying that they should ignore cancer altogether, but with so many people going through similar ordeals with varying degrees of success the constant barrage of cancer story lines, seemingly only wheeled out to give a character an “arc” for the season or festive period, seems callous beyond belief. Television and the soaps in particular may like to pretend that they’re raising awareness, but all too often they’re simply out to raise ratings. Anything else is simply a by-product.
Since I’ve got you here in my rant-space I wonder if you’d be kind enough to read this then sign this and help save lives by lowering the age of cervical cancer screening in England since for some entirely money driven reason we’re the only country in the U.K. to only screen over 25’s. Cheers
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