TV at Eight

So, put up your fists, and I’ll put up mine

One of my favourite songs is Dinner at Eight by Rufus Wainwright, who wrote it about his relationship with his father, Loudon.

It’s a curiously angry lyric:

No matter how strong
I’m gonna take you down
With one little stone
I’m gonna break you down
And see what you’re worth

A David and Goliath story, with hints of Oedipal patricide. I like the reference to time: not dinner in the evening or when it’s ready, but dinner at eight.  Like a TV programme starting on time. The song describes a meal at which Loudon threatened to kill Rufus, when his son was disrespectful towards him.

While Loudon Wainwright is best known as  a singer (and excellent at the Royal Festival Hall two years ago), he pops up randomly on TV, on MASH 40 years ago, and in the first episode of Parks and Recreation.

Handsome fella: the singing surgeon from MASH

Handsome fella: the singing surgeon from MASH

But it’s the story of paternal angst that we’re interested in here, not a peripatetic career in TV comedy.

When you hear about the distant father and angry son, it puts me in mind of Broadcast Television and On demand Video. The people who talk up binging or cord-cutting, or who shake their head at the madness of the schedule…, they all see On Demand as David, armed with ‘one little stone’, killing off a giant.

Recently, the Financial Times was at it too.

As the good people at Thinkbox often point out, it doesn’t really matter how you watch TV, but if 86% is watched live, and all iPlayer viewing is only 2-3% of all BBC viewing then that’s important, no?

When someone claims that they don’t watch live TV, or says something crass about YouTube (look at this idiot), it has a curious effect on me.  I could laugh them off as mistaken, or point to their naked business interest in making things up.

But it goes well beyond that:

For reasons I can’t quite explain, I find End of TV comments hurtful.

It makes me sad and angry.  And it’s liable to make me adjust my feelings about the perpetrator in a way that I wouldn’t if we were talking about, let’s see… religion.

I dismiss those who only watch programmes on demand as atomised, isolated people, selfishly expecting everyone else to follow their lonely lead.

More broadly, while linear TV seems to be about a country synchronising its entertainment in the spirit of one-nationhood, on demand feels like every person for him- or herself.  Mrs Thatcher’s famous comment about society needs the next sentence to be understood properly: ‘there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families’. Her reference to families softens it a little.  But the people who reject the idea of a schedule seem to barely believe in families either.

That’s what comes to my mind.

Is that mad?  Am I Loudon Wainwright threatening his son?  Why do I froth so?

There’s nothing wrong with doing something alone – I’ll often read, eat, defecate, walk, and write blog posts when I’m on my own.  The last play I saw, I saw alone. TV programmes are great on their own.  But the rejection of ‘TV together’ feels like a painful rejection of the values I hold dear, and much of my professional career.  Such as:

Binging Alone... is that what people really want?

Binging Alone… is that what people really want?

  • the research I’ve been involved with: how humans are driven by a desire to connect and watch scheduled TV to satisfy this need even at the cost of watching something they don’t like
  • the millions spent on measuring audiences, which shows how marginal on-demand is, currently
  • the idea that the lives of older people are as valid and interesting as the behaviour of teenagers

So, do I quiver when I hear some arse-clown dissing the schedule because I am a truth-seeker who abhors stupidity?   Or am I like Juror Number 3 in Twelve Angry Men, clinging to a guilty verdict because he wants to punish his son?

Why does it matter so much to me that the TV schedule survive and that the nay-sayers are proved wrong?  Why do I want their predictions carved onto 10 ft slabs of concrete and attached to their stupid ankles?


Perhaps I should just let it go… chill out. In the end, I can just watch a TV programme with my children and forget it.

Oh look, there’s a Eurovision programme tonight at 8.  On BBC3. A crowd of shiny Europeans warbling about love.

We’ll watch that together.  Yes we bloody will, yes, even if it’s shit.

Not TV at hate.

TV at Eight.