Christmas Day feels like Groundhog Day for TV schedules
Remember ye olden days of about, oh, 15 years ago, when people still took the trouble to watch what was on television over Christmas before complaining about how bloody awful it was?
Okay, so maybe a lot of it was bloody awful — although not as awful as what we had to put up with in the 1970s (it wasn’t all Eric and Ernie, you know) — but that’s hardly the point. At least viewers waited until they looked at what was on before making their minds up about how bloody awful it was.
After all, you can’t have an honest opinion about a programme until you’ve seen it. Or at least you couldn’t before social media. Once Facebook came along in 2004, followed two years later by Twitter, everything suddenly got turned the wrong way around.
It’s commonplace to find people on the internet voicing strong, and in some cases, downright hateful opinions about things they haven’t yet seen. The bitching often comes first and the viewing comes later — if it comes at all.
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As quaint notions go, watching a TV programme or a film before passing judgement on it is now up there with cassettes, Walkmans, VCRs, dial-up internet and phones that just do basic, boring things, like making calls and sending text messages.
Witness the spiteful, socially stunted man-boys who hijacked the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) to pour horrible misogynistic scorn on the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters before the trailer, let alone the film, had even been released.
And then there’s the legion of insecure Star Wars crybabies who went into meltdown because the latest trilogy had the temerity to put a female character, Daisy Ridley’s Rey, front and centre of the action. There was a similarly pathetic reaction to the casting of Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who.
Luckily, most people aren’t such blinkered knuckleheads. They’ll usually give a programme a chance, rather than stupidly putting the boot in, sight unseen.
At the same time, you can understand why the BBC has been coming in for some advance criticism of its Christmas Day schedule. At the time of writing, we don’t have the exact details of everything that’s going to be on every channel, on every day of the festive season.
We know for sure, though, what will be on BBC One on Christmas Day, and it looks strangely familiar. The big shows this year are Strictly Come Dancing, Call the Midwife, Mrs Brown’s Boys — which will also be a plank of RTE One’s Christmas Day line-up — and the usual hour of unremitting misery and screaming from the ghastly EastEnders.
It’s virtually a carbon copy of last year’s BBC One Christmas Day schedule. In fact, it’s virtually a carbon copy of the schedules for the last four or five Christmas Days.
The only “new” offering this year is a Gavin and Stacey special, a revival of a sitcom that officially ended 10 years ago. This is not Christmas Day TV, this is Groundhog Day TV.
Here’s the thing, though: there’s nothing unusual about it. It’s pretty much always been this way. Christmas Day TV has always been predictable. It’s never been about trying new things or pushing boundaries.
For long stretches of time, BBC One on Christmas Day was defined by the likes of The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, Only Fools and Horses, The Royle Family and Doctor Who.
For the last few years, it’s been Strictly, Call the Midwife and Mrs Brown’s Boys.
That the programmes listed in the previous paragraph were excellent, and that Mrs Brown’s Boys is rubbish, is neither here nor there. It gets a huge audience, so that’s why it’s on TV every Christmas Day.
Maybe the sheer range of alternative viewing offered by streaming has blinded us to how rigid Christmas Day has always been, and not just on BBC One, but on RTE One, ITV and all the other terrestrial channels.
Personally, I’ve always felt the best Christmas television is to be found in the days either side of the big day. But it won’t get 10 million viewers.