Thursday, October 18, 2007
The Scandals At The BBC And ITV Are Evidence Of Greed, Corruption And Corporate Idiocy. So Why Is There Nothing Good On The Telly?
On doctor's orders, I am forbidden from referring in detail to the several life sentences I spent as an employee of Scotland's Notional Newspaper, The Scotsman. However, the recent crises in television brought to mind an episode which now seems oddly prescient.
It was several years ago, and took place in the editor's walnut-panelled den, a setting which might have graced a production of The Mousetrap, were it not for the horse-racing on the television. I had been invited to a meeting on how to raise the newspaper's circulation, and proposed - as I often did - the addition of news to the paper's contents, and more puzzles, preferably on a different page. My advice was absorbed and ignored, and the editor decided instead to introduce features which would appeal to the illiterate and the disinterested. (This was, at least, slightly more progressive than the former executive of Scotsman Publications who was in the habit of greeting the sales successes of Scotland on Sunday with the true, but unsettling observation: "I'll tell you one group of people who aren't reading the paper - the blind!")
At this point, the meeting was joined by one of the most senior of senior executives, who - for reasons of public decency - must remain anonymous, even though he bore no resemblance to any person, living or dead. The senior senior executive was in an exuberant mood, possibly because he was drunk on his own cologne. But this disability did not hinder his creativity. "Look at this!" he exclaimed, waving a copy of that morning's paper. "It makes no sense." An awkward silence followed, in which we waited for details, as it was hard to guess which aspect of that morning's nonsense had excited him so. His face flushed puce, as he tore the television listings page from the paper. "Why are we printing this for free?" he demanded. "It's advertising. We should charge these people for advertising their programmes."
It was, in its way, a logical suggestion, albeit an impractical one. But you could see the idea's appeal. If the television companies could be persuaded to pay for the listings, then so could the cinemas. Perhaps the Scottish Football Association would care to make a contribution to the sports pages. After all, the tourism industry goes out of its way to subsidise the travel pages, and the business coverage is afloat on free wine and corporate hospitality.
Naturally, nothing happened, and the senior senior executive decided to concentrate on more practical matters, ordering himself a fitted carpet and a new conservatory.
Which brings me to today's stories about the BBC and ITV. The BBC is making 1800 redundancies, in an effort to save the £2bn it didn't receive in its recent government hand-out. The Corporation will also allow advertising on its websites, though not in Britain (yet). Fewer new programmes will be made, and more repeats will be shown. In Scotland, 210 jobs will go, though some may be created if the campaign against the unisex toilets at the new Pacific Quay HQ is successful. The rumour in the Ubiquitous Chip is that an advertisement has already been drafted for a wee wifey to sit at the door of the ladies with a saucer full of 10p pieces (though whether this will be reinvested in programme-making remains unclear).
Meanwhile, on what my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) used to refer to as "the other side", ITV has announced that it stole £7.8m from viewers in fraudulent phone-ins. Oddly, the "zero tolerance" approach of the ITV chairman Sir Michael Grade means that none of the thieves will lose their jobs, but some monies will be refunded to the poor oafs who spent their benefits voting on premium-rate phone lines for the location of a pig full of money on the Ant and Dec programme Saturday Night Takeaway. The symbolism of this deceit is exquisite, as Mr Ant and Mr Dec are said to be in receipt of a joint salary of £40m, though there is as yet no confirmation that the cash is delivered in a porcine wrapper.
So, a suggestion. The BBC, which currently pays Mr Jonathan Ross a rumoured £2m a year, and Mr Jeremy Paxman £1.04m, is said to be fearful that its top stars will defect to ITV. They should oil the revolving door and push them through it, though ITV may be in a less generous mood now that the flow of free money from idiot-phone lines has been dammed.
Actually, the BBC should go further. Let them charge the likes of Mr Ross for the privilege of working for the BBC. This need not be a selfless act by the presenters: they could be paid by direct donations from the viewers, by phone, text message or collecting can. That way, these jumped-up bingo callers might develop an understanding of the true meaning of public subsidy. Alternatively, since the market must decide, perhaps a high-minded philanthropist could pay the jabbering wretches to go away.