Friday, 20 November 2009

Horizon – Money for old rope?

When I read the synopsis for this week’s offering of Horizon (BBC2) I let out an audible sigh, and set my expectations to disappointment. Alan Davies, sometime comedian, panellist and mediocre actor was ‘on a quest’ to find the length of a piece of string, leading him 'on a journey’ into the field of quantum mechanics. Hilarity all round then, we start off with a cliché, Alan can look comically befuddled and add some bons-mots on the not so funny world that is the incredibly small.

It is only fair to set my stall out early; I am a huge fan of the Horizon format. Over the years they have made some brilliant, ground breaking and informative documentaries; a task that fulfilled the BBC’s role as a public service broadcaster.

It was not however a huge ratings winner, and in the modern world of the Beeb this can mean only one thing – fuck about with the format. The popular tool to ‘fix’ the documentary format these days is either the docudrama, usually reserved for historical subject matter and when done well can be good; however when done badly resembles a metaphorical car crash between a Jane Austin novel and a 1972 Open University broadcast.

The other tool in tele-land is the modern favourite that if in doubt; slap a celebrity on it, the great panacea of our age. This is especially galling when done to the documentary format, even more so when it’s done badly and inexcusable when done to Horizon.

This week’s subject matter of Quantum Mechanics is an incredibly complex branch of physics. Richard Feynman, winner of the Nobel Prize for physics said: “if you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics”, so I was eager to see what light Alan Davies would shine on a science which Einstein himself was troubled by and unsurprisingly the answer was very little.

It gave the impression that after Alan had got his piece of string, measured it and chatted to a couple of kooky scientists that the producers had managed to fill 30 minutes of the hour long show. Rather than expanding on the science they chose to fill the remaining time with some baffling sequences of Alan mumbling with slow motion shots of him wandering down the road; brow furrowed, clutching his piece of string. There were also lots of echoed replays of segments of Alan’s discourse, maybe too strong a term, with the physicists; brow furrowed, clutching his piece of string.

Horizon used to be the only vehicle on TV where those of us interested in science, expanding our minds and maybe challenging our understanding could go. The public service aspect of the Beeb has been gnawed away by executives who believe the only validation of a program is large ratings. It seems that the idea TV can be good; with a loyal if not huge audience is an antediluvian concept these days. I would like to grab those who have diluted Horizon to this travesty of a show by the ears and suggest if they want to make vacuous, celeb obsessed nonsense then they should piss off and work on Strictly Come Dancing, or some other cranially challenging format.

Next week’s Horizon: Flogging a Dead Horse – Les Dennis examines Keynesian Economics using a dead horse to illustrate the free market, followed by this week’s guest Question Time host – Jordan aka Katie Price. God help us all!

1 comment:

  1. interesting post man, i am looking forward to the Keynesian economics next week. The general theory of employment, interest and money is an important work.