Bodyguard heralds return of ‘water cooler TV’

Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden in Bodyguard. Picture: BBC
Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden in Bodyguard. Picture: BBC
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It was killed off by the advent of on-demand TV and the rise of the box set, which meant that people were watching different things at different times.

It was killed off by the advent of on-demand TV and the rise of the box set, which meant that people were watching different things at different times.

But now the concept of “water cooler television” – when the nation watches the same programme live and discusses it the next day – has been granted a reprieve by a wave of new gripping dramas such as Bodyguard.

Experts have claimed the phenomenon has been given a new lease of life by strong, home-grown television series, prompting people to watch much-anticipated programmes at their scheduled time.

Alison Goring, head of the new National Television and Film School Scotland in Glasgow, said: “There is an enormous amount of fantastic drama on television this autumn. While some of it can be picked up on iPlayer and box sets, a lot of it is ‘appointment viewing’. The fact you do have to wait a week to watch it is really interesting and that has 
kept the momentum going.”

The BBC’s Bodyguard was this month revealed to be the biggest drama on British TV in more than a decade, drawing 6.8 million live viewers for its premiere on 26 August. Other new series, including Press, set in two London newspapers, and Black Earth Rising have also attracted strong audience figures.

Ms Goring, who is an exper­ienced film and TV assistant director whose credits include This Is England ‘86’, said terrestrial channels had stepped up to the challenges posed by the likes of Netflix. “It feels like a really exciting time in British television,” she said, pointing to a new Scottish-Australian production, Cry, which is due to air this autumn. “There is more coming and plenty of it is coming out of Scotland.”

In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s when television streamed through the internet was not available, the nation often united over a storyline on a long-running soap or a new series that captured the imagination of TV viewers across Britain. But the trend changed as people began watching TV “on demand” through internet TV and subscription services such as Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, meaning viewing habits became scattered.

It was widely reported that electricity companies noticed a surge in power usage as millions of people put the kettle on during an advertising break in popular programmes such as Coronation Street.

Chris Dolan, a lecturer in TV fiction writing at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: “It has been extraordinary. It has just come out of the blue. In the 1980s everybody would watch the end of a series of Morse. If you didn’t, what would you talk about the next day? And we are seeing that again.

“Over the past few years, however, there has been so much product out there that few people have seen the same thing as anyone else.”

He added: “What has chan­ged is that more people are talking about what has been on local British television, whereas a few years ago it was all about the big American series. There is a general feeling that British drama these days is pretty good.”