It will no doubt come as a surprise to learn that broadcasters in the UK have strict limits on the proportion of the schedule which can be made up of repeat programmes. This ruling, ineffectual though a perusal of the Radio Times may make it seem, is enforced by the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC).
For a long time it seemed there was nothing else for it but to make new programmes. Or, more usually, buy cheap cast-offs from America. During the 1990s, TV companies adopted a novel approach: broadcast a compilation of bits of different repeats, and call it a new programme, thus saving money and avoiding the wrath of the BSC.
But a strange thing happened: the people who monitor ratings discovered that large numbers of thirty-something parents, deprived of the option of nipping out to the pub, were watching these shows instead of Jeremy Beadle1. There were only two possible alternatives: either You've Been Framed was mindless pap which would reduce even a brain-damaged simian to a persistent vegetative state, or the compilation shows were accidentally brilliant.
Sadly, the TV executives, with their unerring instinct for the soul-destroyingly tedious, plumped for the latter option - and the TV compilation boom began.
This is an analysis of the more common forms of compilation currently on the screens of UK Researchers.
We are all nostalgic for the music and television of our youth. And it is easy to see how, given the amount of drugs consumed, some of us might have trouble remembering parts of the 1970s. Of course, mature reflection shows that this is probably for the best - but since when did mature reflection form any part of the TV commissioning process?
So we had a series of shows along the lines of I Love 1971 hosted by a prominent figure of the year in question - one week Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear in Starsky and Hutch), another Carrie Fisher (celebrating her role as the mystery woman in The Blues Brothers), in which TV clips and music were mixed with reminiscences of half-remembered celebrities to the general satisfaction of an audience of semi-comatose parents relaxing with a bottle of wine after finally getting the kids to bed. As a formula, it could be worse.
But disaster struck - they ran out of years (a problem as unforeseen here as was the year 2000 in the computer industry). Worse, they ran out of years but they still had a host of sub-B-list celebrities (no issue was complete without the whining monotone of Johnny Vegas). They carried on. In 2001 they actually broadcast I Love 1999. Anybody who requires the help of a TV programme to recall images of two years ago (most of which are still being shown in the part of the schedule allowed for legitimate repeats) is in serious trouble.
Instead of giving up they have now started doing shows like I Love Blue Peter. Well, this Researcher did - any opportunity to get Noakes, Purves and Singleton back on the telly can't be all bad - but all the clips had been seen in other compilations recently which rather reduced the pleasure. Watch out for I Love the Trade Test Transmission...
These were originally musical shows - top ten progressive rock bands, top ten blues records, etc. The format had definite merit but ultimately suffered the same fate as I Love 19... in that they ran out of top tens. The format has been extended to include, for example, top ten TV heartthrobs (cue bundles of clips of old Professionals episodes) and the like, but ultimately this format, having been enjoyed in its robust youth, needs to be left to mature like a fine wine before it can be savoured again.
More ambitious, more expensive and infinitely more pretentious are the Top 100, or 100 Greatest, shows. We have had 100 Greatest TV Moments and 100 Greatest Movies, to name but two, all voted for by - wait for it - you, the audience.
The weakness of this method of selection became painfully obvious when Robbie Williams was voted above Mozart and only just behind Bach in the 'most influential composer of the Millennium' category in the 'Music of the Millennium' awards. Saturday night TV audiences are largely composed of people too young to remember Nigel Kennedy, let alone President Kennedy. The result is a skewed and ultimately worthless collection of random material.
Of course good material does creep in: the moon landing was voted greatest TV moment of all time, which is probably fair. But was Toy Story really one of the 20 greatest films ever made? Greater than Disney's Fantasia? Was Star Wars a markedly better film than the critics' perennial favourite Citizen Kane? And what, please, was Titanic doing in any list of the hundred greatest films of all time? This Researcher ventures to suggest that even the third of it which is watchable does not stand comparison with the likes of Casablanca, The African Queen or even ET.
This series actually started out rather well, a series of profiles of comedians and performers of great skill. Unfortunately all the other compilations have used the best material, so the little pleasure of forgotten moments of comedy genius is lost. The shows almost succeed as documentaries - the one on Kenneth Williams was actually quite gritty - but the problem which besets all compilations ie, that of all the good ones having been done, remains.
Review of the Year
In a special category all of its own comes the end-of-year special. This is a way of producing a 'new' edition of a popular show (Have I Got News For You, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Newsnight - they're all at it) without the expense of most of the guests. One chairman, a few hurriedly scripted links, and a VT editor are all that's required.
The only saving grace is that some of the shows are too slow and dull to watch in their native environment, but a year's output provides adequate material for a half-hour of watchable telly.
Compilation shows can make great TV. But through the inexplicable process of commissioning, focus groups and 'meedjah' (media) consultants, they somehow never do. They do however make cheap TV - which is fine as long as they don't pretend to be anything else.