Monday, 14 July 2014

BBC - Where Are Your Book Programmes? Anne Cassidy

This is something that has bugged me for as long as I’ve been a published writer. Why are there so few programmes about books on television? In this blog I single out the BBC because it is a public broadcasting body and should reflect the pastimes and interests of the people who pay its licensing fee. And yet there are hardly any programmes about books. The general argument seems to be that book programmes are dull; people sitting on a sofa and talking to each other about books does not entice viewers. And if people don’t watch the programmes then they will not be made.

Who would have thought, years ago, that as viewers, we would be living on a diet of house buying/renovation programmes?  Surely, when this kind of show was first suggested someone must have said, Who wants to watch programmes about people buying houses? Could there be anything more dull? Who on earth would be interested except those people who are involved in the industry?

And yet they fill up our TV schedules.  I watch some of these programmes and if I were to try and analyse the success of them I would say it is not because they show houses (although this country has a fascination with home ownership) it is rather that they each work their format around a narrative about people’s lives. So, Location, Location, Location has couples or singles who are looking for a property because they want to change their lives/ get new jobs / get married / move to the country. These programmes and many other ‘property porn’ programmes are full of stories that we follow. These people bought a run-down house and did it up then sold it on! Here it is before – here it is after! Ta Da! This is why they work so well. It is the same with the health programmes. People losing weight, having reconstructive surgery, having babies, going to A and E. We love the stories of their lives. We love the journey they go on. This is why these programmes work.

They’re about stories.

If only there were some other medium that existed on the telling of stories.

Oh, wait a minute. There are books! Literature! Full of stories and yet when television does deal with them the only thing they can manage to do is have three very chatty people on a nice sofa talking about them.

So, television bosses, if you ever decide to look at books again why not take a different approach. Don’t look at the book as a commodity and have people on sofas holding one each and talking about it. Go inside the book. Look at the story and give the viewer some of that.

How?  Simples….  

  • ·         A Five Minute book slot every day (at least) close to a popular programme. After the One Show?  Eastenders?
  • ·         Get various writers or editors or book lovers to present, people who are genuinely enthusiastic about books.
  • ·         Have them hold the book and tell a bit of the story to the viewers.
  • ·         Dramatise some short sections of it (that is something you are good at)
  • ·         Have voiceover from the writer saying what they were aiming for.
  • ·         Have music/ tricksy camera work. Make it look edgy and interesting the way that most modern TV looks.

Short and sweet and often. Every day on the radio we have TWEET OF THE DAY. Why can’t we have, on television, BOOK OF THE DAY?


Sue Bursztynski said...

Sounds good to me! We have a TV book program here(or did hav) in which the people on the sofa were writers themselves. That certainly added interest. A five minute program is a nice idea, perhaps hosted by a writer or well known reviewer with personality.

Joan Lennon said...

I'd watch those!

Sue Purkiss said...

Excellent idea!

Andrew Preston said...

I was going to say....

The common attribute of all that is suggested is that they look rather like massive plugs for books, and/or writers. There is virtually zero involvement of viewers other than as straighforward consumers. And that watching about books is like dancing about architecture. If I hear a piece of music, and I really like it , then I want to learn more about who, what, where ,how and why. If I hear all the words befor I ever hear the music, then they're just another pile of words.

That's what I immediately though of saying. Until, it sprang into my mind the author V S Naipal. A famously curmudgeonly man, in public. If I recall correctly, he lives near Stonehenge, about a mile from where I used to live. His home is beside the the river that wends it way through the beautiful countryside. And his missus is a bit of a cracker, as they say. A journalist. I'd be rather interested in some kind of programme that showed aspects of their lives, intertwined with work, and books, and the stories.

Nick Green said...

I definitely applaud 100% the view that there are too many programmes about property (and cookery, and general banality).

But I wonder if the main reason for that glut is that it's simply very cheap to make those kinds of programmes. The moment you introduce any kind of creativity in a TV programme, the budget shoots up.

Richard said...

A good base for such a programme would be A Good Read on Radio 4, which I always catch on Friday night, driving home. Just three people discussing three books, so it would need a bit of a pep-up to transition to TV, as you say. But even as it is, it has got me interested in reading a few of the books that I'd never have considered otherwise.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Yes, radio is good. The ABC has a daily book program during the week and another on Sunday. And I've been known to download a book the author had spoken about on radio - impulse buying is so much easier nowadays! ;-) A program showing where writers live and work might be nice if they were writing full time and living somewhere pretty with their spouse and four dogs. If they had a day job and lived in a flat in the suburbs it might be less interesting. Even so, it might be quite expensive to do a biographical TV series. I think I prefer the five minute daily book review.