Friday, September 07, 2007

Turn off the waterworks, they don't move me no more

Long ago a senior broadcasting exec told me that TV was all about "moments of disclosure". This means it's at its best when closing in on a human face as it reacts to new information. You can see it in just about every form of modern TV: Pop Idol, Changing Rooms, Big Brother and, well, just watch and make a note.
It's the money shot and you can set your watch on its happening two-thirds of the way through the show. Because all media inclines towards formula the event that at one time arose naturally quickly has to be turned into the cornerstone of the enterprise.
Last night saw the launch of the fourth series of BBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" and featured Natasha Kaplinsky tracing the fate of some of her ancestors in Eastern Europe. As soon as this path was marked out you knew that the director was waiting for one thing and one thing alone - the shot where the star weeps. And understandably she did. But then again so did Jeremy Paxman and Jeremy Clarkson in earlier series – and their great-grandparents weren't victims of Nazi death squads. You know that if the camera hadn't been rolling when she wept they would have got her to do it again.
TV doesn't believe anything it can't see happening and because it's essentially a machine for making people more stupid it assumes that by now we feel the same.


  1. Anonymous9:11 am

    I couldn't agree more and it came close to spoiling what remains an excellent programme. I don't for one minute doubt that her emotion was genuine but you were left with the uncomfortable feeling that she was always aware that the camera was on her. Not exactly playing up to it, more knowing what was expected of her.

    The great strength of the programme is its ability to personalise history. We don't need the presenter's tears to tell us when we should and shouldn't find this moving.

    Looking forward to John Hurt next week though. I'm sure he'll keep it together...

  2. Anonymous9:30 am

    I didn't see this one, yet when Stephen Fry shed tears in his episode, finding the documentation of his grandparents' consignment to Auschwitz, it was genuinely moving.

    You can be too cynical, you know...

  3. Anonymous9:36 am

    am i the only one who thinks the BBC has forgotten how to make progammes that DON'T feature its own presenters? in response to Steve above i don't think Kaplinsky knows what true emotion is!

  4. Isn't bursting into tears at what your ancestors went through making you realise how lucky you are the point of this programme?

    Before I'd even seen the first ever WDYTYA? I knew it was designed as sob story TV. Everything that's not a soap, drama or comedy has some Surprise! Surprise! moment in it, whether it be Traffic Cops or Grease Is The Word. People expect it.

    I have to say The X Factor is light on sob stories this year. There was of course the solider who turned up in his fatigues so we could hear about the terrible time he's had in Afghanistan and put straight through to the next round. As if they would have sent him packing. Tsk. We've all go so cynical.

  5. Charlie Brooker suggested recently in his Guardian column that the X-Factor would be far more entertaining if the sob stories about entrants with dead relatives or whatever were the lead-in to them performing an audition reminiscent of an animal in pain. I would like to see more of that, I have to say.
    I'm always far from convinced when media attention turns back onto newsreaders - many of the other people on WDYTYA have more strings to their bows. When people are more concerned about the person who's telling you the news than the content of the news itself, I think something's amiss. Though I gather the BBC said that Kaplinsky shouldn't appear on programmes such as 'Strictly Come Dancing' too much lest it undermine her credibility as a newsreader. Surely the reverse is equally true?

  6. Surely the biggest shock about this programme was the her claim that she didn't know where Belarus was until she looked at a map. Isn't this the kind of knowledge that we should expect a BBC news reader to know. My main problem with N.K. since she joined the BBC has been the lack of weight and substance underneath the carefully coiffed hair and this did nothing to dispel it (presenting stints on Saturday teatime dance shows didn't help either)

  7. Anonymous12:42 pm

    "Newsreader" says it all. They used to be journalists. Actually, before that, they used to be newsreaders...the wheel turns.

  8. I have to agree with the sentiment expressed here. I cannot watch this show because I know that is what the director is waiting for to. There have been good episodes of this. Stephen Fry being one and the other other was Moira Stewart.

    She managed to read the records of her forebearers being sold to plantation owners. But she showed dignity and restraint. Simply saying 'what a horror...what an outrage.' or words to that effect. But she was employed at a time when newsreaders were employed for their skill and not their marketabilty in reality tv programmes.

    Not that I am slagging off Strictly Come Dancing you understand.

  9. Anonymous9:21 am

    Why do people always feel the need to slag off Kaplinsky? Is it because she is relatively attractive?

    Let's say, for a moment, she was actually quite ugly (which I admit would never happen, because the words "ugly" and "female newsreader/broadcaster/TV presenter" can't actually exist in the same sentence) - would we all be quite so cynical?

    As for someone moaning that BBC only feature their own presenters? When was the last time you saw an ITV programme that didn't feature a guest from Emmerdale or Coronation Street?

  10. You can't really knock the format, or the choice of subjects. It's a family tree programme that's designed to get us all interested in such matters. If it was "ordinary" people, we, as viewers, would have no immediate purchase. With well known people, be they newsreaders or comedians, we have some prior knowledge of their currrent life, and it's easy to become quickly fascinated as they delve. You can, its true, be too cynical.

    I'm sick of tears being the only money shot in town in our post-Diana world, too. But I don't think a non-professional actor, ie. Kaplinsky, could turn on tears to order, or retake them convincingly. If she cried, I'm guessing she cried. (Have you ever tried crying on cue? It's a proper acting skill.)

  11. Anonymous8:15 pm

    Hmmm, so Rob and Andrew, two media guys, think the great british public are being too cynical! i'd laugh if i didn't feel like screaming!