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Television is not just for slack-jawed old people waiting to die any more

By on November 10, 2010
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When I was a child, the television seemed like the apotheosis of entertainment. On a Saturday evening, I’d sit around with my brother and my parents watching classic entertainment like The Generation Game, Morecambe and Wise or Game for a Laugh.

A television, yesterday

We’d go to visit my grandparents, sitting in their high-backed, winged chairs, religiously turning on the television to watch Countdown at 4.30 and then they’d stay there, legs out, leaning back on the sofa, as they lives drifted away through ad breaks and idents. I learned to equate television with boredom, a flickering attempt to dull the fear of mortality by pretending, for just a little while, to be truly interested in, well, pretty much anything that was put in from of me.

So when I turned sixteen, I left television behind. Television was for the young or for the decrepit. As girls and alcohol and going out and having fun, came crashing into my consciousness, the idea of choosing, purposefully, to lock myself away in a darkened room watching a pale, uninteractive facsimile of life seemed, to me, to be madness.

I railed against a medium that discouraged thought or action, where problem solving was something someone else did, where my participation involved nothing more than stabbing an idle finger at the bottom of the remote.

Why watch Gardener’s World when I could be in the garden, amongst the plants and the leaves and the flowers. Why waste time with Countdown when I could do a crossword puzzle myself that taxed my brain. Why watch dull whodunnits when I could read, or play Broken Sword or The Puzzle of Monkey Island, games that test my mental faculties and challenged me to the edge of my abilities, a proven way of helping people learn and develop.

I, in my self-righteous arrogance, thought that television existed for children who knew no better and slack-jawed old people, waiting to die.

So imagine my surprise when someone told me about all the programmes that exist in a multi-channel environment. I thought multi-channel meant 4.

Programmes that contain drama and narrative, suspense and story. Programmes that enable me to interact with the screen and not simply be invited to turn off my brain and lie comatose on the sofa, my mental faculties as dulled as a dead-drunk mother in Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Sure some of the stuff I see on the television is rubbish. But some is genius.

It turns out I was wrong. Television is no just one type of content, catering for simpering morons, any more than all books are, or all films, or all video games. There are programmes like The Wire, Sherlock, How to Look Good Naked and The Thick of It. There are shows that bring a nation together, like Downton Abbey, The X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. Hell, even some soap operas seem pretty good.

It turns out that making ill-informed, prejudiced, narrow-minded assertions about a medium based on an understanding formed twenty years ago and a perverse desire to refuse to participate in one of the largest segments of our entertainment landscape is a bad idea.

Who’d have thought it?

* * *

In case you missed it, this is satire, prompted by Harry de Quetteville’s bizarre piece in the Telegraph today. Thanks to Rob Davis at Playniac for the lead.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com