February 17, 2012 10:07 pm

Bourne again… and again… and again

Lamenting the lack of anything worth watching has long been a national pastime, but the switch to digital was meant to end all that
illustration of TV showing next show: The Bourne Supremacy©Lucas Varela

Digital switchover is almost upon my area. The old analogue TVs are within weeks of obsolescence. As those who have already made the leap will testify, there are many reasons to be cheerful about this. For one thing there are elderly people out there who have never seen The Bourne Identity. It was, as we all know, written into Freeview’s articles of incorporation that there should always be one of the Bourne movies showing – preferably the middle one. Don’t misunderstand me; I value that fact that with Freeview you can be certain there is always a good film on telly; I just wish it wasn’t always the same good film. I’m not knocking the Bourne films; it’s just that they lose something on the seventh showing.

Even so, it’s shocking that until now, even in some of the wealthiest parts of London there are those who do without many of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s flicks or who endure the misery of not being able to find an episode of Top Gear at any hour of the day. It’s 2012 for God’s sake in one of the richest countries on earth! But there are still people who never get the chance to watch The Hunt for Red October or Passenger 57; people who’ve never seen Price-Drop TV. Even more astonishing is the thought that there are actually some lost souls who could afford to switch to digital but refused to do so; people who cussedly insist on waiting a week for the next chance to see Jeremy Clarkson and his pals hi-jinxing it along the B roads of British light entertainment. But those miserable killjoys have had their day – soon they’ll either take 24/7 access to Clarkson or get their TV switched off. Frankly, it’s time they got with the programme. They need to learn to love reliving that episode in which he and his co-presenters race each other to secure an invite to Rupert Murdoch’s summer party.

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Robert Shrimsley

But there’s so much more to woo the digital refuseniks. Think of Channel 4 +1, a unique service that finally caters for those who love Deal or No Deal so much they want to watch the episode again almost immediately. Then there is BBC Three and the promise of endless reruns of Gavin & Stacey; and the Channel 5 digital substrata dedicated to the CSI episodes from towns not romantic enough to hit the main viewing slots; you know, CSI: That Small Hamlet Outside Jersey City; or perhaps NCIS: The Des Moines Suburbs.

Across the country these joys await pensioners and other hold-outs. Bang on your old set as much as you like love – it ain’t coming back. The government has killed your old telly so it can sell the freed-up spectrum to telephone operators and to release you from your Clarkson-free existence. These perks are not unique to Freeview. Sky, Freesat; BT Vision and the other cable channels seem no better; all offer a smattering of new premium content padded out with hours-worth of TV filler and once enticing movies repeated endlessly. But why feel limited to what the schedulers offer? Thanks to the internet and TV on demand you can watch what you like … as long as you aren’t too demanding.

Of course, lamenting the lack of anything worth watching has long been a national pastime. But it wasn’t meant to be this way any more. The switch to digital was meant to end all that – it was meant to usher in an era of something for everyone. The digital revolution was supposed to open up endless vistas of programming aimed at all segments. Nature channels, jazz channels, all manner of minority interest programmes you couldn’t find elsewhere. Instead we have umpteen pop channels and the same content spread more thinly as advertising falters and TV production budgets are squeezed. As margins plummet everyone has dashed for their slice of the middle-ground. Sorry mate, we wanted to offer diversity but the economics didn’t stack up so here’s a little gem from the EastEnders archive.

Once our political leaders wooed voters with the promise of a chicken in every pot; now all that’s on offer is Matt Damon on every box. Have you heard the good news, brother? There’s a Bourne-again future for all of us.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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