WATCH, Sneer, Avoid? But we’re still the poorer for the loss of BBC Three says Euan McColm, after the announcement that the channel would be scrapped.
It seems perverse to mourn the passing of something for which one had no affection. It’s like regretting the end of a migraine or growing wistful at the memory of the awkwardness of youth.
I never felt much for BBC Three, even during the first year of its existence between 2003 and 2004, when I was still part of its 16-34 target audience. I was immune to the charms of Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, a sitcom of such clunking loutishness that it made peeing in a bus shelter seem the height of sophistication.
Nor was I compelled to tune in to Snog, Marry, Avoid?, a show which – online research tells me – involved contestants being made-over before members of the public decided which of the three options they would choose. Since the subjects had agreed to be styled for a television show before being paraded for our entertainment and their humiliation, it seems a missed opportunity that a fourth option – Punch – was not available.
But, despite my inability to connect with the output of the channel, I was very sorry to hear this week that it has fallen victim to BBC cuts and – with a much reduced budget – will now appear only online. No more will you be able to tune your box to My Fat Idiot Neighbour or I Married A Pot Noodle.
You may shout at me Gavin & Stacey! or Being Human! and I would be forced to concede that those shows – a rather sweet sitcom and a pretty good drama featuring a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost – support the case that BBC Three’s output has not been a complete waste of time and money.
You may also accuse me of snobbery, and I would have to admit that I have, from time to time, looked down on the channel’s programming, even – in the case of the unlamented Lily Allen And Friends chat show – tuning in simply to indulge in some I’m-so-superior yucks (This is an unattractive quality and I vow to do something about it just as soon as I become a completely different person).
But the charge that really sticks is that BBC Three isn’t for me. It’s for a younger audience and they are entitled to think my opinion as irrelevant as I thought my parents’ when they demanded that I, for the love of the wee man, turn down my screeching Jesus and Mary Chain records in 1985.
My sadness at the end of BBC Three as we’ve seen it (and with a budget down from £80 million to £25m, the online version will bear scant resemblance to the version we currently know and love, hate or ignore) is sincere because, although it very much is not a channel for me, its passing will thwart creative potential.
There is truly terrible television across all channels, whether they be BBC or commercial. The good stuff (and yes, of course a judgment on what constitutes such is subjective) is rare, the great stuff rarer still.
But while there is money to commission new drama, comedy and documentary, there is the potential for something brilliant to make it through the development process and, just maybe, come out the other end undamaged by executive meddling.
We – and when I say “we”, I mean those of us of certain age – have a tendency to be rather wistful about television’s “golden past”, even though, as far as I can recall, the majority of broadcast output between 1975 and 1982 consisted of footage of Alan Whicker on Chinese junks and uncomfortable dramas about incest.
And, let me tell you (and risk the wrath of men over 40 across this land), I watched Tutti Frutti again a couple of years ago and it’s just six hours of angry, charmless men shouting illogically at each other, redeemed only by masterful comic performances of Richard Wilson and Katy Murphy as Eddie Clockerty and Miss Toner.
There is a fairly widely held view, to which I subscribe, that the finest modern drama is currently being made in America. There are some good reasons for this, not least because the size of the audience, each paying subscriptions for cable networks, means a lot cash to think big.
Shifting £30m of BBC Three’s budget over to BBC One for drama programmes might seem a sensible way of trying to compete with the imports that we revere, but it’s a drop in the ocean in the scheme of things. The numbers don’t add up to allow the BBC to hire the teams of writers and commission the 13 (or more) part runs which gave us The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.
And if you can’t match the Americans with money then surely the answer is to think creatively with what you have got.
BBC Three was not the problem. The problem was the people making decisions on what to commission and broadcast.
A small channel, with a £90m budget could surely have been taking more chances on low-budget drama and comedy instead of throwing cash into crass “I married my dog” shock docs.
By investing in talent and taking some chances on genuinely original drama, just maybe the channel could have sustained itself through overseas sales.
Perhaps it could have brought on writers and directors who’d have taken their vision to the bigger channels and, again, generated cash from abroad
BBC Three was supposed to be aimed at young people. The mistake it made was to treat those young people like idiots. Instead (and remember this is public service broadcasting. It’s allowed to put quality before shock value if it wants), it could have been a real breeding ground for a the next generation of television makers, some of whom might actually have been rather good.
I won’t be sorry to see the back of BBC Three’s terrible documentaries and moronic panel games but the loss of an outlet which could yet have uncovered new talent is a loss to our creative well-being. «