The

Fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Greg Sheri­dan

YOU would travel a long dis­tance to find any­one less knowl­edge­able about new tech­nol­ogy than me. I gave up pretty much at the spin­ning jenny and quill pen. How­ever, even I can see dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to change al­most ev­ery­thing we do.

Un­til re­cently, tele­vi­sion view­ing was changed dig­i­tally only in that you got more choice. If you had pay-TV, still a mi­nor­ity pur­suit in Aus­tralia, you could choose from many more chan­nels. But a re­cent Sun­day night be­gan to show me how things will de­velop.

If you are a baby boomer like me, you will have spent an ab­surd amount of time in front of the tele­vi­sion. You have prob­a­bly grown cor­pu­lent and lazy be­cause of this and read less than you should. Your head is crammed with the most sub­limely use­less knowl­edge, such as the lyrics to Top Cat and the Gil­li­gan’s Is­land theme song.

If there’s one thing I thought we baby boomers would never do, it was aban­don the sloth­ful, guilty, in­dul­gent, lazy, ad­dic­tive plea­sures of TV. And yet iPhones, tablets and the like are tak­ing us away from the box. Our young­sters watch less TV than we do partly be­cause they have grown up with so many dig­i­tal al­ter­na­tives. But for all that, the ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing TV, it seemed to me, would re­main pretty con­stant.

Now I know bet­ter. On the Sun­day night in ques­tion my wife and I wanted to watch three pro­grams: Chan­nel 10’s House Hus­bands, Seven’s In­spec­tor Morse spin-off En­deav­our, and the ABC’s The Time of Our Lives. Be­cause they were screen­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously, or at least over­lap­ping, we watched House Hus­bands live and recorded the other two. House Hus­bands is quite en­ter­tain­ing. It is a typ­i­cal Aus­tralian pro­duc­tion in that the act­ing is su­perb, the tele­vi­sual equiv­a­lent of the cin­e­matog­ra­phy is very good, and the writ­ing is poor. That’s pretty much the way it goes with Aus­tralian film and TV. It deals in lu­di­crous stereo­types and thinks it­self very dar­ing be­cause it has four stay-at-home dads and one gay cou­ple. That’s cut­ting edge for you.

But for all that, Gary Sweet, Rhys Mul­doon and the rest of the cast are charm­ing per­form­ers and have a splen­did reper­toire of facial ticks, gri­maces, ges­tures and the like, which can be mod­er­ately amus­ing. It’s brain­less but en­ter­tain­ing.

It was al­most un­watch­able, how­ever, be­cause of the ads. Net­work tele­vi­sion is on the brink of de­stroy­ing it­self with too many ads. You al­most for­get what pro­gram you’re watch­ing, the ad breaks are so long.

We didn’t have that prob­lem with the ABC’s The Time of Our Lives. In­clud­ing Clau­dia Kar­van and Wil­liam McIn­ness, its cast has some of the best ac­tors Aus­tralia has to of­fer. And, de­li­ciously, it had no ads. But the writ­ing was so ut­terly ex­e­crable that it too was al­most un­watch­able. Plot lines of so wooden a pre­dictabil­ity, dia­logue so mag­nif­i­cently en­am­oured of cliche, char­ac­ters so with­out pur­pose or ex­pla­na­tion or in­ter­est that you wouldn’t want to watch it again.

By far the best pro­gram of the three was En­deav­our, and it gives me no plea­sure to praise a Bri­tish prod­uct over the Aus­tralian al­ter­na­tives. And here’s the rub. Be­cause we recorded it, we didn’t have to watch a sin­gle ad. The ad breaks are so ab­surd that we de­ter­mined never to watch an­other com­mer­cial show live.

That’s all very well, of course. But where will the rev­enue for TV pro­gram­ming come from when no­body ever watches the ads? Each week I record the rugby league game in­volv­ing my beloved Bull­dogs so I can skip the ads. The only re­quire­ment is try­ing to make sure I don’t know the re­sult in ad­vance. TV sta­tions them­selves are mar­ket­ing apps for what they call catch-up TV, watch­ing a pro­gram that has al­ready been broad­cast.

Mak­ing shows such as House Hus­bands and The Time of Our Lives, medi­ocre as they may be, is ex­pen­sive. Just as the in­ter­net has stolen ad rev­enue from news­pa­pers, so the in­fi­nite avail­abil­ity of record­ing and of other forms of TV on de­mand, com­bined with the wild mul­ti­plic­ity of of­fer­ings, is surely go­ing to threaten the fund­ing model for lo­cal drama.

The so­lu­tion, I sup­pose, is that it will all be sub­sidised by the govern­ment. Then it will be even more un­watch­able and po­lit­i­cally cor­rect.

Still, there’ll al­ways be an I Love Lucy re­peat screen­ing some­where.

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