The Rise Of Comfort Entertainment



Noel Coward once said; ‘Television is not for watching. It is for appearing on.’ He may have been right, because that’s what a lot of British teenagers seem obsessed with trying to do. Yet TV viewing is up – so what’s the explanation?

A media friend recently spent a day getting data results from a number of British families about their viewing habits. One thing is clear; people are watching a lot more TV because of the way they use content, hopping from staring at a screen on their commute, to watching at work during breaks, during their lunch hour, and home again, jumping between three or four different devices.

But what they’re watching is uniform. Reality TV, shows about cars and cakes,a small amount of ‘quality’ drama, SF for the teens, sitcoms and soaps for mums, sport for dads, talent shows for the young, nostalgia for the olds, nothing unusual, experimental, arty or foreign. Anything with subtitles is a no-go – check out viewing figures or box office figures for foreign TV and movies, then compare them to five years ago. In many cases they’re down to a fifth of what they once were.

What appears to have happened is that although TV viewing has risen, it’s the broadest part of the mainstream that has benefitted most. We’re not broadening our tastes. And what this means to anyone who attempts to create something original for a living is that we might as well give up and write Mills & Boon romances to make a bit of money.

Even more startling is the disappearance of contemporary novels in the UK. State-of-the-nation books, political dramas, tales that use the modern world as a backdrop are still popular in the US, but not in the UK. The part Orwell got most wrong about ‘1984’ is that he envisaged a top-down imposition of state control, never thinking (who could) that we would drive it ourselves from the ground up via the internet. He never imagined that anyone would actively choose censorship, safety  and narrowness of opinion in a kind of limited-choice totalitarianism, and he never saw the form it would take.

It’s got me thinking. As a fan of Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck books (until they became too polemical), perhaps there’s room for a police series set in the here and just-around-the-corner…watch this space.


10 comments on “The Rise Of Comfort Entertainment”

  1. Wayne#1 says:

    Wink Wink, I think I know what your up to Mr F.

    Totally agree with you re what people watch. I for one love Subtitled drama. I really enjoyed Department Q. Three original and slightly nerve shattering stories well adapted for the screen. I hope to see more of it on our screens.

  2. Vivienne says:

    Watch this space, then?

    I generally watch one programme a week – am now missing Broadchurch and haven’t found anything else, so I know I’m not typical.

    Agree about Orwell. ‘Reality’ shows have fed people’s desire to achieve celebrity status. The pursuit of self-promotion has succeeded any notion of self-improvement.

  3. Steveb says:

    Nigel Kneale’s ‘Year of the Sex Olympics’ broadcast around 69 I think is not his best drama but quite prophetic about TV.
    The general trends mentioned are partly Europe wide partly UK specific.
    There’s been quite a few near future series on tv over the years – Star Cops, The Guardians, 1990, etc. I think The Guardians is an interesting template because it featured the return of capital punishment, and the people were actually secretly drugged and killed the day before their expected execution date to make it more humane. Anyway the point is, return of capital punishment could provide an interesting dramatic bite.

  4. Brian Evans says:

    “The pursuit of self-promotion has succeeded any notion of self-improvement.”
    What a wonderful quote Vivienne!

  5. Roger says:

    An updated version of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam’s Axel would end with “Vivre? les TVs feront cela pour nous”

  6. Brooke says:

    “..As a fan of Per Wahloo’s Martin Beck books..” Don’t forget Andreas Camilleri, Maurizio de Giovanni, etc. as police series set in the not-very-pleasant here and now.

    “…return of capital punishment could provide an interesting dramatic bite.” Already done… Arkansas and other US southern states now execute people based on the expiration date and level of supply of the chemical compounds used to kill the prisoner. There is actually a pool on which state can executive the most souls in one day.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Have never quite understood why a capital sentence is within the state jurisdiction rather than federal in the U.S. The dividing up of responsibilities seems dependent on the fears and concerns of the negotiating people at the time and rarely are they ever changed. (BNA Act 1867 Section 31 “and salmon wherever they are.” That all changed when we patriated the thing so kids don’t have to memorize those sections any more.)

  8. Brooke says:

    @Helen. We have several judicial systems reflecting our odd anxieties about centralized government. And you can see the absurdity in cases like the BP oil spill; imagine federal attorneys putting the environmental case against BP before a state judge whose campaign was financed by oil interests and who wealth is invested heavily in oil and gas exploration.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    @Brooke. It’s fascinating looking at various systems and wondering whether one of them would be a better fit than what we have. In Canada anything not specifically assigned defaults to the federal government, while I understand the default in the U.S. is to the states. The case you propose is bizarre but quite possible and the result would be either everyone trusting the judge to be even handed or that s/he would recuse themselves. If that case were Canadian the federal prosecutors would be putting the case before a federal court (the spill was offshore) where the appointed judge (so no campaign) would still have to decide whether his/her investments were likely to sway his/her judgements. We assume the impartiality of our judges until actions prove us wrong and the judge can then be removed. It’s the assumption in both systems that is the weak point.

  10. John Griffin says:

    Quite spontaneously, our household has stopped watching TV, even on catch-up, apart from the excellent Department Q trilogy and occasional CBeebies when the youngest grandchild is randomly deposited with us. Why? is a question we have been debating – both of us read real books, I read ebooks…….. advert breaks maybe, appalling news reporting (except for Ch4), interminable soaps, reality trash…..UK society is sailing on into the night and we’ve hopped ship.

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