I just can’t look, it’s killing me

So today, Channel 4 are expected to announce they are pulling the plug on Big Brother. It’s no surprise – their contract runs out next year and no-one expected them to renew it. However, it seems indicitive of a wider trend in TV. With the decade about to change, I suspect telly will change with it, too.

Last night’s You Have Been Watching was a good reminder of this: it was a 90s special. On the one hand that seemed a little strange, but it’s actually somewhat prescient. The 90s were characterised by home makeover shows, programmes about groups of 20 and 30 something friends, docusoaps, ‘gritty’ children’s/teen programmes, ‘laddish’ and ‘ladette’ post-pub telly and US sci-fi imports. The millennium end of the 90s was all about the list show.

Of course, most of these trends trickled into this decade and then promptly died – and the trends from this decade carrying over into the next will surely do the same.

On the whole, this decade has been dominated by star search talent shows, reality TV game shows (with ‘real’ people and ‘celebrities’ and the blurring of the two), business shows, property shows and expensive US drama. Oh, and Doctor Who.

The signs are that all of these, too, are on the way out. Anyone who has watched the most recent series of Location, Location, Location, Dragon’s Den or Property Ladder will have sensed just how incongruous they feel in ‘the current economic climate’ – but also how tired the formats are becoming. The decade’s crop of US drama has either ended (The Wire, The West Wing), is about to end (Lost), or seems a bit confused about where it’s going (Heroes, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives).

The ‘talent search’ stuff has gone through multiple revisions on a theme, but with American Idol suffering the loss of Paula Abdul, The X Factor being resoundly criticised for its ‘now with added audience’ changes and BGT receiving a lot of flak for its treatment of Susan Boyle and the child contestants – not to mention the fact that Peter Kay’s spoof pretty much killed anyone ever taking the things seriously – this genre, too, feels like a dying beast.

The Apprentice losing Margaret and Strictly replacing Arlene are hardly signs that those series are in good shape – and now the decade’s grand-daddy, BB, seems to be on its way to the googlebox in the sky. And Doctor Who, of course, is going through a big revamp in order to (hopefully) keep it 2010s fresh rather than looking like a 2000s relic.

Telly, like music, fashion, architecture and style, seems to naturally gravitate to decade-shaped flavours, so as this decade peters out and a new one powers up, I’m expecting a whole raft of new stuff. What it’ll be, and whether it’ll be any cop, remains to be seen.

(PS This decade isn’t over yet, so we’re still running The Bitch Factor for all your X Factor bitching needs).

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6 thoughts on “I just can’t look, it’s killing me

  1. I agree with almost all of this except for Property Ladder, which I actually thought was looking tired and formulaic before the property crash, and suddenly became MUCH more interesting when people were trying to develop in a flatlining market, but maybe that’s just me!

  2. No, I think it is more interesting this series for that reason as well (as I put on LC the other week) – but that’s surely a one or two series phenomenon at most.

  3. The fact that people care so much about relatively minor things like cast changes and alterations to the audition process (from what I heard the X Factor auditions sound exactly the same as they always did – about 7 auditions per show, a focus on crappy people over talent, rampany hyperbole and sobstories) to me says that the genre is stronger than ever. If anything it’s a positive sign – the audience have established traditions and memes related to the show they want to defend.

    Big Brother has been dying for 4 years now. It’s an aberration in the genre at this point – like the death of Brookside was to soaps.

  4. It is a joyful day that Big Brother’s ending. Though I did watch it now and then, I think it was symbolic of everything that was bad about the 00s.

    Maybe the most questionable show of the noughties was Space Cadets, and one of the things that would make me most happy would be the return of Play for Today on BBC4 (repeated on 2).

    Nice survey reminding us of where tv are.

  5. I wish I felt sad about the demise of BB, I used to be a huge fan after all but I have watched maybe 3 episodes of this run and I know I’m not the only one to give up on it obviously.
    It is a shame that its going out with such a whimper not a bang, back in 2000 it actually felt new and exciting but I think its natural that our throw away culture extends to our TV habits.
    Corrie is 50 next year, I can’t imagine there will be many shows celebrating such milestones in future.
    (Well except Corrie which along with cockroaches will be the only thing to survive a nuclear attack natch).

  6. I think the reasons soaps can endure is that they are an ongoing narrative – and also they deal with stuff that’s for ‘all time’ like marriage, children, love etc. The ones that try to be too much ‘of a moment’ flounder when that moment passes (Brookside for example).

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing that most TV has a shelf-life. If it didn’t, there’d be no room for innovation. It’s the same with most things culture-related, there are shifts and trends and movements. Perhaps the trends in the 21st century move faster than in the centuries before mass media, but music, architecture, art, fashion, food have always changed with the times. Technology perhaps just assists the process.

    It’s not to say all longevity is bad, you need your staples, be it Coronation Street, s straightforward portrait, or a little black dress – but innovation and change is part of human nature.

    I had forgotten about Space Cadets – that was AWFUL.

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