Sunday 17 December 2017

Television review: Nothing too serious, just the Ploughing and the Stars

* Panorama (BBC 1)
* The Ploughing (RTE1)

Marty Morrissey
Marty Morrissey
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The theme music of the BBC's Panorama - was it the greatest of them all? I use the past tense here, because the piece of music which they are using now is still the same tune, as such, it's just they've re-arranged it so that all the greatness is taken out of it.

How do they do that? And more importantly, why do they do it?

I believe that if we can understand these things we can understand many other things as well, such as, say, the reason why a programme such as Panorama doesn't seem to matter much any more.

And here we get to the essence of the former greatness of that theme music - it didn't so much grab your attention, as pin you up against the wall and warn you that you were going to find out something really important here, and if you missed it you were a fool.

It had this tremendous sense of urgency, this noise that would raise the dead. Moreover, if somehow you still weren't paying attention during the show, when it reached the end, that pounding of the kettle-drums, that bolt of pure concentrated energy would hit you again like an electric shock, informing you in the strongest possible terms that you had just missed something really important, whether you realised it or not.

And now, with so much of that energy drained out it - not unlike the way that Irish singers would ingeniously extract all the goodness from country 'n' western songs - they're telling you something different.

They're not grabbing you by the lapels any more, they're dropping you an email that you mightn't even see for a few days, telling you that there's a rather interesting little story that someone in your particular demographic might find relevant, but then again if you just want to chill out and avoid the stresses of involving yourself in these controversies, that of course is your prerogative, and thank you for your time in reading this.


Perhaps it is this lack of the old passion which allows an organisation like the BBC to lose so many of its finest creations, the latest of which is the Great British Bake Off - which lost Mel and Sue, and which has now lost Mary Berry in its new Channel 4 manifestation.

And you know what? Maybe there's a bit too much baking in it too. The modern TV executive, after all, is in constant pursuit of things like "inclusivity," and will have noticed that frankly, if you don't like the old baking, there's not much for you in the GBBO - the execs love the show mind, absolutely love it, just wondering if a tweak here and maybe a shift of emphasis there could make it even better, by bringing in those viewers who until now may have been alienated by it?

Indeed is the GBBO not openly excluding and even discriminating against those people with its insistence on - indeed its obsession with - the baking aspect?


With its love of The Ploughing, RTE is apparently going the other way, adding value to a deeply-rooted Irish cultural phenomenon, the one whereby these top media personalities come down from Dublin and meet the country people and both of them are changed by the experience - the Ploughing and the Stars, as it were.

The Dublin personalities become very light-hearted, giving out the message that normally they'd be doing an interview with some very serious person like Peter Sutherland, but when they get down here, you know what? They just go mad!

There's Aine Lawlor doing a completely silly quiz, because the country people love the quizzes. And the prizes, they love the prizes.

And the country people know how it works too, this ancient meeting of cultures, they accept that they are being regarded as overgrown children, and they respond in kindly fashion.

They are used to it now, this idea that someone who farms 200 acres and who knows the Common Agricultural Policy off by heart, will cheer wildly at the sound of the words "Marty Morrissey."

You can get used to anything.

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