‘Tis the season for repeats, banality and Robbie Williams, when all we really want is something different.
Christmas television is, mostly, sentimental gush. Christmas television, across the terrestrial channels – and even across TV from multichannel broadcasters – represents everything that is wrong about UK television schedules. It is against culture, artistry, individuality, intelligence and innovation. It is against change and progress. Instead, it is lazy and unimaginative, relying on past schedules that go back 50 years for inspiration.
Christmas television needs a new injection of life, but the problem is that Christmas is indissolubly bound up with tradition
In its misguided attempt at evoking Christmas spirit and ‘togetherness’, Christmas TV promotes sterility. It promotes cliches, dreariness and over-the-top soppiness. It promotes repeats, Robbie Williams and banality. It promotes sameness. The Daily Mail reported back in 2010 that viewers right across the board are finding it hard to take any more of it. It is no longer just those with a thirst for challenging television and films that are taking issue with the dreary, soppy dredges that we, as television viewers, are subjected to at Christmas time. The people have had enough, but nothing has changed.
Christmas television needs a new injection of life and vitality, but the problem is that Christmas is indissolubly bound up with tradition. It is handicapped by being tied to a centuries-old custom. Therefore, being forward-thinking may mean that television broadcasters must disentangle themselves from the tradition that birthed it in the first place, evolving and moving away – which would obviously mean a disassociation from Christmas itself, therefore becoming something very different from Christmas television.
This cannot happen, naturally. It defeats the purpose as opposed to being a remedy. Moreover, Christmas television is, by its own nature, supposed to be warm-hearted, gentle and full of laughter. Broadcasters aim their schedules at families because they make up a significant portion of their target demographic. But, frustratingly, they can think of nothing more than to feed them with repeats of substandard modern Disney films and naff pop stars. As the nation’s mentality changes and becomes more progressive and open-minded, so too must the Christmas television schedule. In fact, the television schedulers could even help to herald the revolution by branching out with the films they pick to show us at Christmas.
Christmas is when TV stagnates more than any other time of the year – executives think inside the box, but fortune favours the brave
For example, instead of yet another incessant repeat of Chicken Run, why not screen the beautiful and thought-provoking Persepolis, an animation that is as aesthetically brilliant as it is heartwarming and informative? It would breathe new life into stale Christmas schedules, whilst also appealing to the whole family. There are many more out there like it, too; many more animated gems which would illuminate a family’s Christmas who never saw it coming.
Sadly, the element of surprise in Christmas television is just not there. As long as broadcasters continue to rehash the 170 years-old A Christmas Carol story, there will be no evolution, no progress. Christmas is when television stagnates more than any other time of the year, with executives thinking inside the box, refusing to look for alternatives and magical Jack-in-the-boxes, choosing to reopen the same present instead. It could be that the BBC, ITV, Sky etc are scared to be the first to make radical changes. Scared of losing out in the ratings war as they make the first, bold move. But fortune favours the brave.
Film aficionados suffer more than others at Christmas. The incredible uniformity across the channels means that a true film fan has nothing else to look forward to than repeats of Santa Claus 3, Toy Story and Miracle on 34th Street. As endearing as these films are, what we need is an alternative to sit side-by-side with them. We need Sky, in particular, to inject their several movie channels with treats for true film lovers. How about a Fritz Lang silent movie season that runs throughout Christmas? Or a rare sighting of Hitchcock’s very first film, The Lodger? How about a Herzog film to unwrap at midnight on Christmas Day?
Cheap DVD releases and streaming services mean a family can watch the Porridge Christmas specials whenever they want
TCM appeared to raise the bar, whilst causing people to ask, “am I dreaming?” when they screened Blue Velvet at 11pm on Christmas Day in 2010. Sadly, this kind of scheduling genius is a rarity. But the way we watch television has changed significantly over the last two or three years, which should surely prompt a change in the broadcasters’ thought processes. Cheap DVD releases mean a family can watch the Porridge Christmas specials whenever they want, therefore making another BBC repeat redundant. It’s the same with The Snowman, which still continues to be Channel 4’s major draw after all these years.
Significantly more damaging to television schedules at Christmas is the advent of iPlayer, 4OD, Netflix etcetera, which have devalued repeats at Christmas peak times. Audiences can watch what television they want, when they want, without having to wait until later on Christmas Day. Broadcasters, therefore, need to think outside the box. Careful, informed research would not make this a difficult task. The TV shows and films are out there. The audience is waiting. According to the earlier report, it is craving them, in fact. Chicken Run has run its course.
Featured image: BBC
Inset images: BBC; Channel 4