Points of View

Sunday, October 29, 2000 by

You’ll not catch me slagging off Anne Robinson. Alright, so Watchdog is often self-satisfied and badly researched, and she may be unpleasant on The Weakest Link (actually, I think she’s quite funny), but a while ago, she was one of my favourite people on television. Every Wednesday, I’d rush home from the Cubs so I could be in front of the telly after Dallas for Points of View – 10 minutes of comments about what’s been on TV – ideal viewing for a TV-obsessed kid like me.

Since the series began in the ’60s, people have endlessly slagged off POV, complaining that the series offered only tokenistic criticism, and that the tone was too flippant. But Anne used to be a great presenter, able to get some real discussion going, or at least as much as you can get in a programme devoted to letters. Really, all you can hope for is some constructive criticism about what’s been broadcast.

You always got the impression that POV was never the BBC’s favourite programme – they always seemed happy to cut it in half or drop it for a Party Political Broadcast, and the problems of scheduling a 10 minute programme meant that from the early ’90s, Anne always seemed to be announcing that “we’ll be back in seven weeks, because there’s no room for us in the schedule”.

The all-time low was in early 1997 when the programme was reduced to five minutes, to make way for The Two Ronnies – it didn’t even get a proper slot in the schedule, instead it was billed as “following” the Ronnies. This, and the dominance of Watchdog, presumably caused Anne to go on holiday and never come back. Since then, it’s been a sorry story – Chris Serle was a bland replacement for a few months, then a series of pretty useless guest presenters were drafted in. Carol Vorderman and Des Lynam also had stints in the chair, but it seemed at times like the POV chair was the last stop before leaving the Corporation. There was also an extended break in 1998 where the series was off the air for almost a year, and the scheduling problem meant that it was often only on screen for a few weeks at a time.

So now we see Points of View broadcast on a Sunday teatime, still for 10 minutes, and for just 12 weeks of the year – so if you want to talk about a programme that’s on in the other 40 weeks, tough. Worse still, Terry Wogan is now in the chair, a man who seems to have no problem with complaining about almost every aspect of the BBC yet still presenting some of the worst programmes to come out of TV Centre. Tel’s been doing his “the DG said to me …” shtick for years now, and while it’s often fun on Eurovision and the like, here’s it’s just an irritant, masking any sort of relevant point with time-wasting whimsy. And for a man who’s just complained that members of the public are taken advantage of on television, it’s amazing that he fronts a show where letters are edited to such an extent that it’s unusual to hear more than one sentence from each – say what you like, but make it quick.

The programme now serves absolutely no useful purpose whatsoever. Correspondents have no opportunity to expand on their opinions, and the programme is packed with irrelevant clips. This week, for example, we were treated to a selection of clips from the two month old documentary Gold Fever, simply because some of the letters mentioned the Olympics. A quick “and finally …” story from Breakfast was regurgitated for no reason and 10 seconds of comment regarding Clarissa and the Countryman (“What a wonderful programme”) was followed by two lengthy extracts, all of which were hopelessly dealt with by Wogan. Worse still, a reasonable complaint that there were no highlights of the closing ceremony of the Olympics was answered by Terry with “We spoke to BBC Sport, and they said ‘What, 21 hours of coverage a day not enough for you?!’” No they didn’t, Terry. Answer it properly.

I can’t imagine the BBC taking any notice of any of the points raised in the programme, which seems ridiculous, as they normally take viewer’s comments seriously (even if the staff working on the programmes don’t). Yet the public face of the Corporation’s public relations is this waste of time.

It’s also ludicrous that the only programmes where the public can comment on the television they’ve seen are this and Channel 4′s Right to Reply. Right to Reply likes to think that it has real “teeth” and makes a difference. This is clearly wrong, partly because it goes out at 7.30pm on Fridays, when absolutely nobody is watching because Coronation Street‘s on the other side, and partly because the programme is so bad. Each complaint receives a pointless Watchdog-style “report” which often serves no purpose other than to make the viewer look stupid. A deaf viewer complained that he couldn’t phone up to play Who Wants to be a Millionaire. This was a reasonable point, but rather than just make it, he had to act out a series of situations – a spoof quiz, pretending to phone up, and so on – in case we couldn’t grasp the concept. Given that the producers of Millionaire said that a new system to allow deaf viewers to play was about to be introduced, what exactly was the point?

Many of the points raised are totally irrelevant anyway – an all time low was devoting a good five minutes to asking if the adverts were louder than the programmes, and deducing that … er, they weren’t sure. Too many of the complaints have nothing to do with programmes and most are devoted to terribly dull industry politics. It’s no wonder so few people watch.

It’s amazing that there have been so few programmes devoted to reviewing, and more importantly celebrating, television. Programmes entirely generated by complaints are unrealistic, as it automatically assumes all TV is crap, which is clearly not the case. Would all programmes devoted to film or music take that editorial line? Why doesn’t somebody approximate the format used successfully by Film 2000 and transfer this to a television review series? It could serve as useful publicity for upcoming series, highlight good but underrated programmes and discuss what viewers do and don’t like. Television is not a minority interest, and the medium always seems happy to analyse itself, so why is it not doing so in a way that will entertain and involve viewers?

Reading out complaints about canned laughter is not helping anyone.


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