Monday, November 27

Top class Sunday night entertainment: don’t bet on it

The BBC took a gamble putting it flagship current affairs programme back on its flagship channel. But like a weak poker player, playing an unsure hand, it backed it only half-heartedly, says Mark Lewis.

Appropriately enough, this week’s new-look Panorama (Sunday, BBC1, 10.15pm) was about online gambling. Because the BBC has taken quite a punt.

Gone, for the moment at least, are the serious discussions on serious topics at serious length. The BBC is betting its 10.15pm time slot instead on only being able to attract sufficient viewers if it appeals to the Tonight or Dispatches demographic

Just in case that’s too high-brow for the BBC1-ers, it ran to just 35 minutes. If that wasn’t stupid enough it also featured an interminable wild-west metaphor which went on for at least half the programme. And there was no shortage of stupid people in the programme either.

Apart from the journalist, Declan, who agreed to try to double $2,000 of his own money (which he would in no way claim back from the BBC later), there was also a cascade of simpletons who blamed internet betting for their inability to stop spending money on gambling.

I have a confession: I am a fan of online gambling, and was just polishing off a game of poker when Panorama started. I am also capable of betting moderately - even winning a little perhaps - without endangering my mortgage, or dipping into the savings for that penis extension operation they keep emailing me the details for.

But if I did mess up, I would take responsibility myself and go back to using the Swedish penis pump. Not so the interviewees in this programme.

One woman, a secretary who pilfered £460,000 from her company, blamed her kleptomania on William Hill. (Which was rather like someone with a nut allergy who just can’t resist cashews blaming KP for his head blowing up.) The young mother escaped prison, presumably on the grounds that any company which leaves £460,000 hanging around the staff smoking room probably deserves to have it embezzled. And the woman was told to go to treatment where she was, no doubt, taught to replace her gambling with a less harmful addiction. Like cashew nuts.

I am prepared to give Panorama another chance because I remember occasions when it produced some of the most thoughtful, imaginative programmes on TV. The BBC would do well to remember that it is not obliged to chase ratings.

Otherwise it might as well show things like Heartbeat.

It’s difficult to know what to say about the new series of Heartbeat (Sunday, ITV1, 8pm). Under normal circumstances, I’m as likely to watch primetime ITV1 as Tony Martin is to drink tea and chat about law and order with a chap who’s just offered to tarmac his driveway.

But it’s either:

1. Charming, must-watch Sunday night TV, which breaks the day up perfectly between The Antiques Roadshow and bed time. And it’s got that lovely boy in it who used to be in Eastenders.


2. Unimaginative drivel, that - you have to keep reminding your nan - hasn’t had that bloke from Eastenders in it for about 10 years.

Its gentle drama for sure which, while set in 1950s Britain, features some of the most biting social commentary on TV. This week, a gun-happy former army officer shot a burglar dead in his home, just seven years after Tony Mental Martin did likewise.

There may or may not be more cutting edge social commentary next week, but if I was a betting man, I’d probably avoid it.

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