Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bark: Television Centre Crime Scene

I'm going to pitch a new TV programme idea to the BBC; Television Centre Crime Scene: An in-depth dramatic reconstruction of the callous murder of the documentary, starring Robert De Niro as Sir David Attenborough and Ralph Fiennes as Greg Dyke.

Why is it that every documentary programme from Horizon to Wildlife on Two has suddenly become a drama, with Hollywood-style DEEP GRAVELLY INTENSE VOICEOVERS TO CONVEY THE GRAVITAS OF THE SITUATION (usually from John Shrapnel)? Two programmes in particular have earned my ire tonight. Animal Crime Scene and Space Race. Animal Crime Scene is especially futile. Why not just tell us about the animals, how they live, how they hunt and so on without trying to wrap a crappy story around it? The documentary film Deep Blue they showed a couple of weeks ago was FAR more interesting. Very little narration, but when it was there, it was useful and informative, not trying to pluck at your emotions to keep you interested. The cinematography did that all by itself.

Likewise, Space Race. The history behind the US and USSR's space programmes is fascinating enough. It doesn't need to be embellished with ropy special effects (there's plenty of actual footage that that doesn't look craptacularly fake and would give a far greater sense of authenticity) and second rate actors reeling off a script that glosses over the real facts in favour of trying to make things seem sensational. I studied Space Science and Technology at university, and after 10 minutes, I felt like I was watching a dramatised version of Rocketry For Dummies. Give me something like Five's Greatest Ever... Machines series any day. No frills, just nice visuals coupled with input from field experts and lots of information you probably didn't know about at the start of the programme.

If I put on a documentary, I don't want to watch a badly written episode of Eastenders with a bunch of scientists as the cast. I also don't want to be patronised that some moderately interesting scientific discovery made five years ago WAS THE MOST DRAMATIC THING EVER. (Horizon is particularly guilty of this lately) I just want to learn things I didn't know before. The BBC's Factual Programmes Unit has completely lost the plot. Stop dumbing down and just give us INFORMATION. I don't object to documentaries being entertaining, or having entertainment shows inform us (I've long been on record as stating that Time Commanders is one of my favourite TV shows ever), but it has to be done in the right way.

Science is interesting in its own right, and a lot of scientists have a lot more charm and personality than the general public would think. Let them tell people what they think they should know in their own way, not have all the interesting stuff they have to say snipped away and put into the mouth of an actor. Scientists are passionate and articulate people. Let them speak. Documentaries *don't need* to be dressed up like a transsexual single parent on the Jerry Springer show. I wish TV executives would get that into their thick, sensationalist skulls.
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