Sometimes television has the power to amaze you, to make you feel good, and the coverage of President Obama’s inauguration brought the hopes and dreams for change into millions of homes. There he was, possibly the most powerful man in the free world, saying – I stand here today, humbled by the task before us. This was JFK stuff and many hope, and some believe, that words Barak Obama said, will have a positive impact here in Ireland. He speaks of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and beginning again . . . He spoke of old values, sacrifice and the labour of the unsung working people. He spoke of hope and diversity, while here at home, Brian Cowen spoke of sacrifice, as in making sacrifices and not allow the full burden of adjustments to fall on the less fortunate. Adjustment? Adjustments, not you might lose your job, house, car, savings, overtime, or medical card. While Obama spoke of risk takers, doers, the maker of things, a Sinn Fein TD was going on about Galway tent chickens coming home to roost. Joan Bruton was on about Ansbacher man and son of Anglo man. Barak Obama was talking about action, – bold and swift and we will act to lay a new foundation for growth – and it is not just the feel-good power of television, that we believe him and want him to succeed.
Is this the year when recession, in the form of viewer disinterest, hits the tv world and that is the sponsors concern too. But the content must have a lot to do with it. Take the grim and grimy content of EastEnders and now we have old-before-her-years, Janine back as a scamming thieving baddie, as well as a knocking shop storyline with boiler of old boilers, Peggy Mitchell protesting outside of it. Then there are the grim and gresy cafe infidelities in Corrie, where dodgy dates try to pawn off girlfriends and the farce of Molly and Tyrone’s wedding with deception, crime, fraud and robbery. No more weddings please.
Even the Emerald soap, Fair City, had its car-crash wedding with Ray at death’s door, until a brother of another pops up and is doing a Buddist talking rap or such and it annoys a young priest who must have come for the wedding, while to a background of drunken lawyers, an Aids storyline, a possible abortion and a stupid exercise bike joke, are their feel-good happy stories or funny stories to relieve the recession.
Setanta seem to have a hit on their hands with Saturday night boxing – only it’s not boxing but Ultimate Fighting Championship – a mix of kicking, punching, wrestling and all-in aggression. It’s more action-packed than boxing with those padded gloves and it’s more real than WWF wrestling. In fact, it can be very bloody and dangerous. It caused radio controversy recently as it came from the new O2 arena in Dublin and was a sell-out.
It was hard to follow the scripted logic of the BBC1 two-parter, The Hunter, a sort of follow-on from the previous and clever Five Days that allowed info to crop up in the story over a long period of tv time. Keeping the options open for an occasional series of what the Americans call a procedural, might have had its attraction but unfortunately Unforgiven used a similar technique, just a week before. Admittedly, Hugh Bonneville and Janet McTeer are big stars but this story about anti-abortionists who kidnap and kill children, was a bit like Pro-life killers, Anti-war bombers or anti-vivisection pet slaughterers. The story cracked along over two nights full of quick investigative procedures, but overall, it was too unlikely and possibly disturbing, despite its gloss editing.
Many who loved the playdough character, Morph, will be saddened by the news that its creator, Tony Hart, a much loved children’s tv presenter, died aged 83. A dual BAFTA winner, Hart died peacefully after contracting a chest infection. He has suffered ill-health since his retirement in 2001 and two strokes left him unable to draw. He designed the original Blue Peter badge and he was an inspiration to thousands of young people with such shows as Take Hart, Hartbeat and Vision On. My memories of him go back to the early sixties and at secondary school I was plagued by the nickname Morph, but even that’s forgotten now!
Tough time to be in Youth Television as UTV axed Britannia High, as it didn’t make the expected numbers, despite disks, songs, hand-picked performers, quality scripts, internet involvement and when the review of Skins for E4 came up for a third series, they axed most of the cast and took on a totally new direction at a new school and it is still as rude, as nasty, as sexy and as wild as before. And there is the added bonus of Ardal O’Hanlon as a dishevelled Irish teacher who Fs and Blinds like the old priest in Father Ted. Opening episode had sex acts, arson, drug taking, mayhem and some of the funniest moments in television.