Getting with the programme this winter


When a once-loved show simply loses its x-factor

CERTAIN TIMES of the year stand out as turning points. Obviously, there’s the new year, resolutions and all that, becoming a better you. Then there’s three weeks later when all the promises are broken and you welcome back the old you. Moving on, we break up the monotony with Paddy’s Day, a little chocolate binge at Easter, summer holidays, and then the family biggie, back to school.

But the Daddy of them all? The switch to autumn scheduling on the telly. The time of year when choices made by commissioning editors in TV stations here and abroad decide how we will survive until Christmas. How we will soothe our chilly bones for long nights in front of the fire, convincing ourselves we can make that bottle of Cab Sav last until the next day.

You get your bigshot HBO bonanzas returning like old friends, Boardwalk Empire and Homelands making promises only the very few, very good ones can ever hope to keep. The blanket bombing will continue to convince us that it is worthwhile to keep Charlie Sheen on our screens, at least until the next time he loses it. An event every one of his commissioning eds must hope will be as public as possible, and how could it not be?

New Scandinavian murder stories and more creepy period pieces from the Beeb will fill in the edges, recorded for our delectation on whatever weeknight we find ourselves at a loss. In other words, whatever weeknight we can escape the X Factor/Strictly Come Dancing mind meld.

Here is my potted rundown of this family’s X Factor history (for in the battle of the big guns, we have never switched to Strictly: we are loyal if nothing else). It aired first just before the elder child turned three and while the younger was kicking seven bells out of her mother from the inside out. As such, we, the larger people in the household, had no concept of its existence for another two years. At which point, aged five, the elder’s attention was held, maybe for a fraction of a second, as we flicked channels one Saturday evening.

The filthy drug did its job. Wintertime Saturday evenings have not been the same since. Where before there may have been culture and bonhomie – not much but occasional bouts – since then there has been TV karaoke and social death. I confess, it was a boon to begin with. It was one of the first programmes beyond Sponge Bob and Dora they both liked, that we could engage with too. It warmed me to have a weekly focus that we could sit in front of and cheer and sneer at.

For a couple of years that consoled me. The banter on our couch blurred the horrific manipulation and real-life soap opera being thrust down our throats for what felt like 360 hours a week, all those long winter weeks.

Last year its legs refused to grow. The girls engaged, but were distracted. The magnetic pull of previous years waned. My tolerance snapped. With every mounting, moronic platitude, all I could think of was how much my boot would improve Louis Walsh’s face. Still, the kids stayed with it to the end, and whichever moppet won and has since disappeared did manage to provoke a minimum of discussion, if only between them.

I’ve caught 15 minutes of one show this year. It’s not that my heart isn’t in it, but that I might commit random acts of grotesque violence if I become ensnared again. In the intervening eight months, a tipping point has been reached. A point where I can no longer allow myself the indulgence that it is in any way okay to waste another precious moment on a Gary Barlow opinion or a single utterance out of that Tulisa creature’s mouth.

In those 15 minutes, a 17-year- old northern Irish girl lamented the fact that her “Doddy” had made poor life choices and couldn’t be there that day to hear her sing. Because he was in jail and had been all her life.

Enough. Off! It will not happen this year. We will not cabbage our way through another winter in front of four preening judges as they force desperately needy, near adolescents to the edges of their already shaky self images.

At some point you have to say: this is bad – for the contestants, the viewers and the health of all endangered species and the environment. For the sake of family harmony we could do anything else. We could crochet, learn to smoke fish, go bog snorkelling. All would be an improvement on this dross.

Enough. Off!

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