Monday 16 December 2019

In praise of the television trailer - Pat Stacey talks Dr Who teaser

Peter Capaldi as Dr Who
Peter Capaldi as Dr Who

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when the rest of the world adopted the American practice of calling a series a season. Frankly, distinguishing between one and the other can be a bit confusing.

For anyone still unsure of the difference, the accepted rule these days is that a single batch of episodes is a season, while the total number of seasons constitutes a full series.  There are five seasons of Breaking Bad, for example, but only one series.

Somewhere along the line, broadcasters also chose to follow the Americans' lead by substituting the word "season" for "schedule".  Whereas once RTE or the BBC would have unveiled their autumn schedules to the media, now they unveil their autumn seasons.

It's all tied in with the general Americanisation of life, one of the more irritating legacies of which is a whole generation of Friends-influenced people who walk up to coffee shop counters and say, "Could I get...?" when what they really mean is, "Can I have...?"

(A perfectly reasonable response would be for the person behind the counter to say, "Yes, you could get that, but would you mind not wasting my time and tell me what you actually bloody well want?"  Sadly, nobody ever does.)

Going hand in hand with the shift from series to season has been the rise of the television trailer.  There was a time when the trailer was the preserve of the cinema.  Evocative music would swell from a darkened screen as a deep, resonant voice (usually that of movie trailer voiceover king, the late Hal Douglas) would solemnly intone something like, "It was a time of heroes..." or "When the world was on the brink of destruction."

Television, in contrast, heralded the imminent arrival of a new or returning programme with a short, relatively bells and whistles-free clip - or if you want to be posh about it, promo.  But with more and more television dramas now resembling chopped-up movies (bigger budgets, bigger stars, widescreen HD photography and so on), the extended television trailer has come into its own.

Ironically, it's the BBC, one of the few remaining broadcasters in the word that funds its programmes entirely from the public purse, rather than its commercial rivals that has exploited the possibilities of the trailer to the full.

A minute-long trailer for the new season of Doctor Who, featuring Peter Capaldi as the Time Lord, dropped this week to the pants-wetting excitement of fanboys - and make no mistake: while seasons may come and series may go, the vast majority of Doctor Who fans are always boys.

"I'm the Doctor," says Capaldi.  "I have lived for over 2,000 years.  I have made many mistakes.  It's about time I did something about that."

Then it's all whiz, bang, whoosh stuff with glimpses of a Dalek squawking "life begins", a Cyberman, a creature that looks half-human and half-robot, various aliens and a very impressive T-Rex looming over Westminster.

Companion Clara worriedly asks the regenerated Doctor where they're going.

"Into darkness," comes the ominous reply.  It all looks rather fantastic.  Then again, so, to the unwary, does the 15-second teaser trailer for the fourth season of Homeland with its rapid-fire montage of Carrie running through war-torn streets, Quinn pinning someone against a wall with his forearm and satellite dots on a map forming into what looks like it could be a flashy new title card.

Painful past experience with Homeland suggests that ancient, cynical crack about adverts being better than the programmes wrapped around them might not be so wide of the mark after all.

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