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TV CRIMES

13-11-2006

The growing trend torevealplot twists and endings of popular programmes weeks before they´re screened sees Lynn Hawthorne wanting to put her foot through the TV.

I love telly. There is something comforting - if not a little idle! - in coming home after a stressful day and slobbing out in front of the small screen to be harmlessly entertained. Good telly can make us laugh, can inform and educate, can keep us up-to-date with latest world events and even make us cry: who didn't shed a tear of pity and guilt for the doomed polar bear in the first programme of the BBC's latest magnificent series Planet Earth (5th November)?

But for most of us, it is the entertainment value that keeps us coming back for more week in, week out. We like to see what happens next to our favourite characters in each episode of a series.

With programmes that I really like, I admit I'm a bit of an anorak, so I was delighted when I received a 6-month subscription to the Radio Times as a Christmas gift last year. It's a publication I scrutinise from cover to cover, marking programmes I want to watch and reading about how programmes were made, facts about actors and actresses and locations, etc.

But recently, my ‘swotting up' has caused disappointment, because members of the media seemed determined to give away plotlines in programmes and ruin the surprise element. Next time you venture into a newsagent's, just cast your eyes over the entertainment shelf and notice the plethora of magazines devoted to spilling the beans over developments in your favourite soap or series. It's hard to avoid them, even if you want to.

Do programme makers think that we need to be told in advance about what happens so that, when we actually view, we'll be able to follow the storyline without subtitles? Do they think that we need to be told beforehand so that we'll watch at all? Are they so twitchy about the quality of their programmes that they cannot credit the public with the sense to choose what they want to watch without hitting them over the head with detail?

Many years ago, the spoiler alert was developed on TV news programmes when football matches were due to be screened directly afterwards. “If you don't want to know the score, look away now” became a familiar phrase after howls of protest from disgruntled blokes who'd settled down for the match just in advance of the weather forecast.

So why can't we apply the spoiler alert logic to other programmes so that only those with the curiosity of a cat could know in advance? I know ratings are important to TV companies, but giving away the storyline takes away the elements of shock and surprise.

Take the 7th November listings for Neighbours- "Sky realises Dylan's place is with Elle in light of her “health scare”. OrEmmerdale. "Adam's appearance rocks Steph. Rosemary is irked by the apparent closeness of Tom and Edna. Vic agrees to keep the Post Office open."

OK, not the most scintillating of storylines and not the most stunning of revelations, but examples of cases where, if you miss the edition, it's no loss because you know what happened anyway. There was no point in watching.

Occasionally, programme makers will appreciate the suspense that they can create by not revealing details, so it was delightful to hear John Barrowman on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross (10th November) state that all the cast of BBC 3's Dr. Who spin-off Torchwood have signed a secrecy agreement which prevents them from revealing details of future plot developments (probably in light of the appallingly-detrimental gaffe of Christopher Eccleston who told the media he was leaving Dr. Who just after the screening of the first episode of the return series.)

The excellent American series 24, starring Keifer Sutherland, is another good example of where secrecy can actually boost ratings. On that show, even the cast are kept in the dark. They're employed on an episode-by-episode basis and only sent two scripts in advance. One British actor in a previous series found out he was out of a job when he was learning his lines and discovered that his character got murdered in the next edition!

With the growth of the telecommunications industry and the rapid increase in the speed at which information travels, the glory days of the excitement around the screening of a programme (remember all the fuss around Dallas and the 'Who Shot J.R?' furore? The dénouement episode was flown in from the States under strict security and newspapers could only speculate on the outcome) is no longer possible, because our viewing habits have changed. I'm not naïve enough to expect that any more, but please can we have a bit of mystery and suspense back in our lives and leave us a few surprises in our viewing?

Even news readers are at it, all turned into mystics and seers by foretelling events. “Today, in a landmark speech, Tony Blair will say….” or “Tonight will see the launch of….” Why can't we be told of events after they've happened and not before? And why do we have to have this nauseating “Later, in blah blah blah…” or “Coming up in tonight's show….” If they spent less time telling us what was scheduled, there'd be more time to feature articles or interviews, items which actually inform us in a useful way!

And that's before I even get on to programme scheduling. I've long given up on videoing programmes to watch later, because I never did get round to it, and Telewest's Teleport system is equally useless because it hardly ever works (incidentally, Telewest, where IS my return call within 5 working days to discuss the faults with my system?), so I'm resigned to missing programmes and catching them when they're inevitably repeated. But even I, with my voracious appetite for telly, couldn't keep up with the Radio Times recommendations for Monday, 6th November:

Drama of the Week: Spooks, BBC 1, 9pm

Documentary: Lock Them Up or Let Them Out, BBC 2, 9pm

Digital/Cable Highlights: Sex, Love and War, UKTV History, 9pm

The Secret World of Haute Couture, BBC 4, 9pm

Young @ Heart, More4, 9pm

Is there no other time slot available?!!! Happy viewing!

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