The Changing Face of Television Vs. The Changing Face of Society

The Changing Face of Television is a much debated topic, one that happens every year, every decade with the introduction of new technology, new techniques, new channels, new ways of doing things.  I have always had a keen interest in Film and Television as a child, many years before I would eventually work both in front of and behind the camera.  What prompted me to write this was a new series the BBC via its BBC 4 Channel have recently started to screen about the changing face of American Television in Prime time and how these changes came about with the ever changing face of American Society.  Thus far I have only watched the first Programme of this Series but feel its presenter and narrator Alan Yentob is onto something with his television thesis on American Television in Primetime.

Watching ‘The United States of Television: America in Primetime’ on the BBC iPlayer service, is an interesting study in how American Television has changed in accordance with and  reflecting the changes in American Society over the past fifty years. The first episode entitled ‘Man of the House’ deals with the changing face of the man as being head of the household, all-seeing, all-knowing, chief breadwinner – you know the whole nine yards etc.  And how with subtle changes and in some cases satire and clever writing an alternative and realistic portrayal of the ‘Man of the House’ came about.

Watching this Series (at the time of writing, I have only watched the first episode,) I wonder at how much British Television has changed – especially in Prime time viewing and yet how little it has changed in its depiction of British Society, its continued exclusion of certain races, personalities etc. One notable example is the BBC Soap Drama, ‘Eastenders’ and how it continually fails to reflect the changes that have happened in East London over the years. I have gone from one end of London’s East End and have yet to find anywhere that remotely resembles the fictional Walford of London E20. The other shows are Holby City and Casualty (again both produced by the BBC), both of which are unlike any hospital I have ever visited or worked in, and I have visited and worked in a number of hospitals over the years.

One of the things I find living in London and using public transport a great deal, is the last language you seldom hear being spoken on the Underground, Buses and Trains, is English. This (for obvious reasons I guess,) is seldom reflected in any drama or film based in and around London. Strange given how international and cosmopolitan a City like London now is. One could say London is a ‘City of Foreigners’ in many ways. After all 300 languages are spoken in London alone, making the City more of City State than Vatican City ever could be.  There isn’t another City in the UK that works the way London does.  Yet seldom is this studied or examined by British Film or Television.

All this comes to pass through my mind while watching Alan Yentob’s first programme thesis on how American Primetime Television has changed, as it audience has changed along with the changes in that Society. There are changes that are driven by reasons and factors that seem absent in British Television or just plain ignored for reasons beyond me.  I just wonder why Mr. Yentob and the BBC are not doing a similar Programme about British Television in Primetime?  Could it be such a programme could be found wanting when compared to the one they made about the history of American prime time television?

Just a reflection based on what I am watching on a ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon.’



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