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Home > Media

TVJism: Down With The Kids

6 October 2006

Throughout history, youth has been treasured and often deified, whether it was the ancient Greeks' actual youth worship or modern society's attempts to avert the inevitable passage of time with plastic surgery. But neither the Greeks nor the biggest plastic surgery addict come close to the obsession with youth of TV

There are sound financial reasons for making programmes that appeal to the youth: young people spend money, thus bringing in ad revenues, and they're incontinent users of mobile phones, thus bringing in phone vote revenue. In the longer term, broadcasters are obsessed with building a base of viewers that will remain loyal to their channel in the future. Despite its general acceptance, this is a nonsensical idea - just because young 'uns watch 'Hollyoaks', it doesn't mean they have any particular loyalty to Channel 4 (although in fairness C4 is probably the most successful channel when it comes to making vaguely credible yoof-oriented TV: just witness the gulf between stuff like T4 and the BBC's hopelessly naff attempts to revitalise 'Top of the Pops').

The problem is that the desire to get down with da yoot has become a bit of an obsession; and that could mean even worse programmes in the near future, if that's conceivable - we thought the nadir of shite had been reached long ago with 'Never The Twain', but then along came 'Hyperdrive' to prove us wrong. Typical of clueless youth-obsessing was an article in the most recent edition of the BBC's in-house magazine 'Ariel', which shares much of the 'tractor production at record levels!' editorial style of 'Pravda'. The article got various BBC staff, including DG Mark Thompson and various journalist types, to quiz a broad range of viewers to see what they wanted from their media. Unfortunately, the conclusions reached about young people were a chilling portent of TV to come.

The article reported that Josie and Sabrina, both 18, believed 'the BBC means news and suits'. And DJs are out, thanks to iPod play lists: 'They're not going to wait for a DJ to play a song they want to hear.' Nonetheless, Josie and Sabrina love MTV, but they sure as hell aren't going to wait to be told about forthcoming gigs by a TV show - they'll already know about them because 'they're already members of the band's friends list on MySpace'. Oh, and they love reality TV and 'America's Top Model'.

Well, there's a surprise, teenagers like music and reality TV. It's all very well of course to ask people what they like and what they want, but you're heading for trouble if the opinions you canvass are simply wrong. When Josie and Sabrina say that 'the BBC means news and suits' they seem not to have noticed that the vast majority of its output *isn't* news or people in suits. The problem with this sort of thing is that there's complicity in stupidity - listen to what people say they want and take it as a proven fact. If the teens think the BBC is boring, then it is.

Unfortunately, the BBC is very much keen to act on findings such as the above, and that can only mean yet more awful, awful programmes. TV is dumb enough already, without trying to turn BBC1 into E4. What the BBC in particular fails to notice is that many viewers' needs are already catered for: Josie and Sabrina like watching MTV - that doesn't mean they want a piss-poor MTV rip-off from the BBC, no doubt hosted by harmless plastic nonentities like Tim Kash that the BBC probably grows in some secret laboratory. And not only are young people notoriously fickle consumers, but their tastes usually veer toward music and entertainment shows, as even the tiny sample of the population which is Josie and Sabrina demonstrates. That's a horrible generalisation, and deeply unfair to many young people, but who sends in the endless fuckwitted texts ('pete ur fit!!! LOL!!!') to the relentlessly successful 'Big Brother', or watches 'The Friday Night Project'? It's not Richard Dawkins, is it?

It's not that catering to the tastes of Young People automatically means awful telly, it's just that when clueless TV execs decide that's what they're going to do, the results are usually shit of the first order. Witness Channel 4's bad-beyond-words 'Whatever' - a show conceived by idiots, hosted by idiots and watched by idiots - or, more likely, no one, because the idiots who *would* watch it are sitting in a park, bombed out of their heads on cider. Here's a sample (warning: contains swearing, and not much else, actually).

In short, more yoof TV is not something to look forward to. And perhaps worst of all, the project of appealing to Young People is flawed in its basic premise, because younger viewers consistently return to shows that are simply *good* within their own remit, whether it's 'The X Factor' or 'Friends' or 'The Sopranos'. So why not just make some good telly, not crap like 'Whatever' or the screes of painfully yoof-oriented rubbish like 'Tower Block Dreams'? Nah, that would be too simple.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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