Christmas TV: The low-low-lows

Christmas is a time for being trapped at home. Naturally, the choice medium of the housebound-the television-comes into play to provide mental escape from physical confines, as a side dish to gluttony, and because, like Eat-Me Dates, it is there and demands to be consumed. Demographically-desperate TV channels are sure to know about this literally captive audience and yet it often seems schedulers pay less attention to the festive period than they do their nightscreens (even the test card changes its kid and midget clown during puberty and pantomime season). It’s a response to the crisis in broadcast television reminiscent of the Fiscal Cliff; ignoring opportunities to prevent impending austerity until the situation gets so desperate that either television ceases airing at Christmas or the stations compromise and show a torn-out magazine photograph of Bing Crosby for two weeks. So how has TV cancelled Christmas? Here’s some of the low-low-lows:

1. Shows about old comedy

When G was here last Christmas every comedy programme we saw was a) a documentary b) about comedy from at least twenty years ago and c) featured men dressing up as women. If funds were directed towards making memorable new seasonal comedy instead of commissioning tribute shows that are the television equivalent of trapped wind, then perhaps we’ll have something other than nostalgia to be nostalgic for in twenty Christmases time. In an episode of King of the Hill, Peggy tries to explain the sophistication of British comedy to Bobby, whose response is ‘Why’s that man wearing a dress?’. G may well have asked the same question. It is not one I can answer, having been born in the 1980s.

2. Channel 5’s Scrooge

Scrooge in the form of a colouring book.

After showing every single made-for-TV movie version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol during the Christmas holidays, including one starring Kelsey Grammer that looks like a Frasier dream sequence, the UK’s leading Hitler documentarians Channel 5 try to redeem themselves every Christmas Eve by showing the 1951 Alastair Sim original. However, to add insult to injury, they choose every year to show a colourised Turnervision version of the film where the colour schemes have been taken from a box of Quality Street. The haunting black-and-white of the film is lost to garishly misjudged colours that would seem gaudy in Yellow Submarine. It’s been so many years now it can’t be an oversight, just a slight tantamount to putting lipstick on Dickens’ corpse.

3. Christmas line-ups

Christmas is a ritual of ruttish repetition and the line-up of programmes on TV tends to follow suit. Now I’m not saying we should have Adam Curtis documentaries about caged turkey farming in the middle of Christmas day but since we know the kinds of programmes that are going to turn up each year, why not re-jig them a little for the sake of novelty? They’ll doubtless be a seasonal special of an obsolete sitcom, a premiere of a film that has been watched in every conceivable medium (including cave art), and a freak edition of a programme re-formatted to include singing. Can’t we have once have a different set of names to make the purchase of a Christmas Radio Times worthwhile?

4. Christmas advertising

‘You may leave the kitchen to present the turkey but return immediately or I’ll lamp you’

If you’re boxed in for Christmas, chances are you’ll have to witness some hefty seasonal TV advertising. These are all-or-nothing flagship campaigns for British stores, brimming with celebrity, extraneous art direction and turkey ham-fisted attempts at cinematic grandeur. Or at least they were. The theme this year has been budget-consciousness, with high-end supermarket Waitrose giving us a bare set and donating filming money to charity and middle-range shop Asda giving us snapshots of everyday family life at Christmas. Except Waitrose’s spread-the-wealth ethos says nothing about reducing advertising costs to make food more affordable and Asda’s vision of family life is so horribly sexist it could be storyboarded from a Victorian manual for women. Extravagant or sincere, TV advertising still loses the public.

5. No Christmas Ghost Stories

Midnight Mass will never be the same again!

Britain has a long, weird and slightly sadistic tradition of using Christmas TV to scare the shit out of people. Throughout the 1970s BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas with its adaptations of classic supernatural yarns delivered with brutal realism chilled the nation to the bone and some later homages to these ho-ho-horror stories, such as The League of Gentleman Christmas Special showed that at Christmas we need to be afraid, no matter what Bob Geldof and Midge Ure might say. But alas, and thanks in part to a frankly rubbish revival of Ghost Stories that looked like it was filmed on a special camera left over from the CSI set, they are deceased and haunt us from a DVD afterlife.



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