Does anyone remember documentaries that WEREN’T fronted by a “personality”? That WERE filled with 20% (approx) more substance and from which you actually LEARNED something?
This sounds like yet another middle-aged rant but it is a serious point. Personalities and the baggage they bring are getting in the way very often of communication. They stand for ages, talking often inanely about a subject they have no real expertise in and then regularly repeat what little they have said several times.
I remember Horizon programmes (BBC 2 Science documentary series) not that long ago that were never fronted but always “voiced-over”. The entire programme was content driven and was often quite challenging. On the makers part, that challenge was to get the content across, in all its complexity, in a way the audience could grasp. I particularly remember a riveting programme on Buckminster Fullerene – a newly discovered form of Carbon with a molecular shape like a football. (C60 and the shape is the geodesic dome) The image of “Bucky Balls” has stuck in my mind ever since and also the skilful way the programme explained a complex and potentially dry subject. How could anyone be interested in it who wasnt an Organic Chemist you might ask? Well, that was the art and skill of the makers of Horizon in those days.
Some expert personality fronting is acceptable of course. Simon Sharma, David Starkey do an excellent job with history and they are still making considerable demands on their audience in terms of language and comprehension skills. There are also long stretches of programme with no “personality” featured. Just voice. But the likes of “Dan Snow’s History of the Railways” is now far more typical and just sums up everything that is wrong to my mind. He may be a historian but you would NEVER guess that from his style and content! A subject with huge scope and potential has been dumbed down and turned into a patronising, superficial skip through this key industry with far too much of him in every shot. I suppose the title says it all. This is NOT a history of the railways.
I refuse to believe that the great British public can no longer cope with heavier content in documentaries. I feel we are being patronised and treated like children by programme makers. But, there again, who is watching TV these days? Most of us are 2nd screening apparently (watching a computer screen/tablet/Ipad at the same time as the TV) and therefore NOT paying attention to either! And the content on the internet is SOO much more interesting and reliable – or is it?
Just some thoughts. I shall retire to my sheep shed and talk to the Bowmonts. Personalities abound but never get in the way of the core messages they want to communicate. “I’m hungry.” “Please help me.” “Fresh water please” “What have you done to your hair – it smells funny!” [After the hairdresser!]