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.