Thursday, November 13, 2008

Under the sea

The BBC’s new series Ocean is billed as “a series of underwater scientific expeditions to build a global picture of our seas” which sounds good. But like many BBC shows of this nature it featured two elements that seem to be recurring more frequently.

Mild Peril. In the first episode we were forced to watch a scene in which the boat lost contact with the diver below the surface. Those on the boat were extremely worried about this and there were audible sighs of relief all round when the connection was remade. There’s no reason to doubt this happened – although maybe there is – but whether it did happen or not is irrelevant. The show should not be about this, it should be about the fish, the sharks they were there to try and capture on film and, obviously, the ocean. Not presenters in fake danger. As everyone knows shows like this go through endless health and safety checks so there is probably very little real danger beyond what would occur on any dive in ocean waters infested by sharks. Secondly if something really had gone wrong there is no way it would be on TV. It would most likely have resulted in some BBC Trust being called in to examine the ‘serious breaches of editorial policy’ that had occurred.

Forced Social History Lesson. There must be something in the BBC charter that now means more must be done to focus on the social history of areas that shows cover. In Ocean we had a segment in which Dr Lucy Blue, a maritime archaeologist, swam around the wreck of a boat in which Chinese immigrants had attempted to enter the US. Okay, but what’s that got to do with oceans? They came by a boat that travelled on the ocean? Is that it? And there’s not some tragic tale of the ships sinking either. It was only explained at the end of this section that the boat had been deliberately sunk to create an artificial reef. Surely that’s the most relevant angle to be covered in Ocean’s remit? It felt like a snatched footnote of information that should have been at the core of the show.

The BBC though is a victim of its own success. After decades of making some of the best nature documentaries ever made – Trials of Life, Blue Planet, Planet Earth – with David Attenborough, winner of the Culture Show’s Greatest Living Icon award, at the helm, they appear to have reached a crossroads and can’t decide where to go next. Should they be serious or fun? Educational, entertaining or edutainment? They need to make up their mind soon though before they risk undermining a legacy of shows on the natural world that, even now, still justify the license fee.

1 comment:

Kristian Dando said...

I'm content as long as there's penguins, and lots of them!