OPINION: Imagine that you had 20 minutes of precious television time and the opportunity to broadcast anything of import from around the world, and possibly even beyond the stars.
As they say in the Lotto ads, what would you do?
On Thursday night, the bods at current affairs show 20/20 studied their options: the US presidential elections perhaps; maybe the melting of the Arctic sea ice; or possibly even the prime minister's visit to studio chiefs in Hollywood.
Any of those might have made for challenging, enlightening television. But they decided instead on a report about America's binge-drinking culture and the extreme act of butt-chugging, which, not surprisingly, involves ingesting alcohol through an orifice south of the mouth.
Now at this point we should clarify that 20/20 has a reputation for pushing the boundary and broadcasting behaviour that is far from mainstream and beyond the pale socially and morally. If it's about thin guys who desire morbidly obese women or people who have taken up intimate relations with inanimate objects, then 20/20 will be there. And the editors of newspapers and websites also don't turn their nose up at the occasional lascivious tale involving freaks and/or fornicators.
But it is insightful that television should descend to a new butt-chugging watermark in current affairs so soon after news that genre trailblazer Close Up (nee Holmes) is to end.
Many commentators and viewers will not be sad to see the back of host Mark Sainsbury, whose impressive moustache became the soft chaise longue on which many a politician and fraudster would lay their story to be stroked and sanctified before the masses.
But at least that half hour after the news of the day was an honest attempt to get to the heart of the issues of the moment, to inform a weary and wary public of what was going on in their communities, their country.
Its demise, the failure to support Channel 7 and the proliferation and ongoing promotion of more lifestyle shows and banal altered-reality television represents a dumbing down of broadcasting - a view further confirmed by hints that Close Up will be replaced by something calibrated to appeal to younger viewers and other butt-chugging aficionados.
The television masters will argue that quality current affairs is available in shows such as Q+A and The Nation - if you are happy to get up a little earlier on a Saturday or Sunday.
Yes, yes, we know we can record it and watch it at our leisure. But there is a message here, an underlying theme that is a little disturbing. It is that good, genuine current affairs and issues that have a direct impact on the viewer are no longer considered worthy of primetime status; not "interesting" enough to garner attention and the advertising dollar.
Is that the fault of the viewer or the telly bosses pandering to their schizophrenic interests? Probably a bit of both.
But the only people likely to be applauding are those politicians and fraudsters. Oh, and the butt-chuggers.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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