I recently came to realise that I never watch ITV, which scooped the National TV Awards last night. I guess that’s mainly because I don’t watch soaps or quiz shows. It was an event that came hot on the heals of wrong, but high level, criticism of Channel 4 for supporting ‘crap like Wife Swap’ (also picking up yet another award).
Defining ‘good’ is never easy, but there’s a giveaway comment on this story from C4’s spokesperson; ‘We have a higher ABC1 figure than BBC Two’. That is, we appeal to the higher classes and so our programmes must be good. This nonsense supposes that a programme that appeals mainly to C2DEs cannot possibly be good or worthwhile.
The criticism of Wife Swap is ever so wide of the mark. Wife Swap’s a popular programme that often generates acres of tabloid press coverage, but that’s a very superficial way of looking at it. The narrative tensions that generate all that are the same tensions that drive much social change. It’s continually explored class issues (famously swapping a benefit scrounger with an entrepreneur), it’s explored race and most notably, of course, it’s explored gender roles and the evolving family. That you can also read it as a voyeuristic exploitation of ghastly exhibitionists behaving obnoxiously, is an added strength.
All those award-winning ITV programmes are terribly safe and unchallenging, which is why I think they bore me. Good television, like Wife Swap, should entertain without falling back on yesterday’s formulae, work on many levels, innovate, challenge, document something previously unrecognised or tell us something else that’s new. Ideally it should do many of those things.