The Death of TVby Sihle Mthembu / 13.12.2010
I remember the first time I watched Def Poetry Jam. A mixture of rebel poets, writers and comedians ready to take over the world. I particularly remember Saul Williams performing “Coded Language” on the show. His poem made me stop goofing off and inspired me to make some changes. Changes like making my bed most mornings, and always talking with conviction!
But sadly, it’s all gone. The death of television programming is one of the saddest events in recent culture. Gone are the days when you could tune into classics, like The Cosby Show on Sunday nights. Now we have to cope with tasteless reality programs like Keeping up with the Kardashians that force us to do nothing more than devalue our own lives.
Wasting an hour watching people go through their day, going on about Fashion and Obama, is enough to make you use the remote as a door stopper. But it was not always like this. Reality television was once remotely interesting.
My mother made me watch Survivor at 7:30 on Tuesday nights back in the day for company and I remember thinking this is crud. But it slowly grew on me and midway through that excellent opening season, with nefarious nudist, Richard Hatch, I was an avid watcher. Unfortunately my mother wasn’t a fan, so I could only watch the first thirty minutes – and from 8 to 8:30pm I’d sulk while the rest of my family got caught up in Generations. Luckily there were repeats on Sundays.
Generations, once one of the most respected and enjoyable local shows, has also gone to the dogs. Storylines are laughable. You can see the creeping influence of The Bold and the Beautiful as lovers are changed like socks and the dead return as if it was a Days of our Lives rerun. What little originality and local flavour the show once had has long since evaporated. Producers blame tiny budgets but innovative, thought-provoking shows are not necessarily expensive. Think of the cheapo beginnings of The Simpsons. Big budgets do not equal intellectual substance. Avatar was proof of that!
When you watch stuff by HBO (The Sopranos/Boardwalk Empire/Eastbound & Down) and PBS (their Frontline documentary series is consistently excellent) you get a good sense of what’s possible – creative high quality work. I watched a profile on Eve Ensler talking about making the Vagina Monologues. The show was made on a budget of $10 000. It has more than recouped that in DVD sales alone. Why can’t we do the same locally?
Well we have the SABC standing in the way of strong broadcasting (and now they want a 1% tax on us to keep funding their mediocrity). Stuff like Lebo Mashile’s snappy, opinionated Latitude which was never given a chance. Not to mention ZA News. Another problem is the constant finger-pointing between producers and broadcasters. Producers say broadcasters don’t buy innovative content. Broadcasters say the quality isn’t good enough – and we go round and round in circles. Even “alternatives” to the awful drek of the public broadcaster like Top TV and Mzansi Magic are not really alternatives at all.
Top TV carries a significant number of channels that are already part of the Multichoice package. And don’t get me started on Mzansi Magic! I mean they broadcast radio shows. You can now listen to celebs talk about their Top 10 massage parlors or cosmetic surgery clinics at 10pm. Think about it: A radio show, on TV?
Speaking of redundancy. There is nothing worse than waking up on a Saturday morning to a Generations Omnibus. Change channels you say? On SABC 3, you’re tortured by The Bold and the Beautiful reruns. Soapies have their place, don’t get me wrong. What else is gonna distract the women in our lives from noticing that we still haven’t fixed that broken tap or taken out the trash? But when soapies start spilling into weekends a man got to protest!
Even Saturday morning cartoons aint what they used to be. What happened to Pokémon, Doug and Goofy? Where have those beloved characters from my youth gone? Turning in their cartoon graves. Sure maybe I’m holding on to past shows. Yes, change is inevitable. But if change amounts to the SABC swapping Friends Like These for dog shit like Ambush – you can count me out.