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TV’s plague of clichés turns me off


AT THIS moment in time, I hear what you’re saying, but the fact of the matter is it’s not rocket science, so we need to move the goalposts and think outside the box.

Six clichés in one sentence. You hear and read them everywhere. But did you realise you’re watching them all the time as well? They are in nearly every TV programme, inescapable, any channel, day and night.

There’s always someone in the production team who likes to show off what modern cameras will do, so for no reason at all you will suddenly see clouds whizzing by at 1,000mph. Or they can’t resist slowing down the pedestrians in a street scene so you have a town apparently struck by an invisible treacle flood which has made walking very difficult. Why?

When you visit an art gallery you look at the art. When TV does it you are never allowed to see the whole picture. The camera will go in close to one part of the canvas then slowly move around, meanwhile irritatingly focusing in and out, ending with a quick look at most of it. Never the whole thing with its frame and certainly never long enough to let you appreciate the trouble the artist has taken over the balance and the structure.

Buried in here is a clue to modern TV: nothing must stay still. Keep the picture moving at all costs because everyone has an attention span of three seconds and the remote-control unit is strapped to their wrist. The irritating camera will even move around, in and back, when viewing ordinary still photographs.

A celebrity has been taken to hospital. A reporter and camera crew are sent to the pavement opposite, the camera focused on a window of the hospital. A reporter will tell you the news breathlessly (with another look at the window), implying that they have just come from the celebrity’s bedside in that very room. What nonsense.

You get the same kind of thing in politics. Reporters will talk from outside the Foreign Office, for instance, when it’s an item about India or Brazil, again hoping to imply that they’ve just come away from a personal and exclusive discussion with the Minister.

Downing Street, of course, is in constant use. You are supposed to think the reporter standing there has just come from a chat with the Prime Minister and therefore knows more than anyone from the other channels. More nonsense.

You would hope by now that media people would have realised that while radio is brilliant at providing music and talking, TV is quite good at showing pictures. Yet how often do we see two talking people almost filling the screen while the really interesting surfing contest, sheepdog trial or high-jump competition is going on behind them. Someone should tell them we are quite capable of listening to comments made off-screen while watching the pictures.

Programme producers love showing you close-ups of people doing nothing but minding their own business. Examples here are tennis stars during the break between games and snooker players sitting quietly and harmlessly waiting for their turn. Surely they are to be allowed a few minutes of privacy?

Facial close-ups get really nasty when the faces concerned are under great stress, or when the tenor is at full stretch in the middle of Turandot or Rigoletto. Nobody ever stands that close to another person, nor do we stare even harder when someone is obviously feeling very emotional.

Now for the vox pops. Few UK news items are free from interviews with whoever among the general public out shopping is willing to say something to camera. Where did this start? Once upon a time the news bulletins contained news, then someone must have decided that’s too dull and we need to liven them up by convincing our viewers that we care about what they’re thinking. So vox pops were born.

We hear the random opinions of Mrs Jones and Mr Smith from Rugby, Truro, Peterhead or wherever. How does this help our understanding of that particular news item? Mark Easton, BBC Home Editor, said that ‘a vox pop, well conducted, can be a highly effective way to test public opinion and mood’. I can’t agree. It would need hundreds of interviews to make that kind of claim. They tell us nothing about public opinion and are just another cliché along with all the rest.

The most annoying to me are the ridiculous supersonic clouds and the vox pops. Why are there so many? If I sent in an article to the TCW editor with as many clichés as the average TV programme it would end up in the bin.

Sorry if I’ve ruined your TV watching. Maybe stick to films.

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Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams
Ivor Williams is a freelance writer and has been a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society since 1984.

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