Saturday, February 25, 2012

Stupidity and arrogance

Advisory: This is a rant from a grumpy old man, so if you don't like stuff like this... please ignore!

I should have posted this last Monday, while still fuming with indignation. But I seem to have become a weekend blogger of late. Another development is that I have started to watch television again... only on Sunday evenings and still rather half-heartedly, given that my veteran CRT television set (with built-in VHS player!) has a screen which is actually smaller than that of my laptop.

Sunday appointment viewing in Germany means for millions watching the latest episode in the 'Tatort' ('Scene Of The Crime') anthology. However I must admit that I am less and less impressed by the quality of the writing of these shows. Two weeks back after watching a 'Tatort' which was so dire that I happily missed the final ten minutes and instead preferred an IM session with my daughter. Then I changed channels to the ZDF, the second public television channel in time to catch an episode of a BBC series. It was indeed the BBC logo in the opening credits which prompted me to stay tuned.

This, too, was a crime series which I had vaguely read about... 'Luther'. I found it brilliant, unconventional, challenging and thoroughly entertaining, and not just because the German Krimi early in the evening had been so awful.

After a bit of research the next day I realized that I had been fortunate enough to catch the première of the series and so it was certain that I would watch again last Sunday.

After about fifty-minutes my instinct told me that the episode storyline was coming close to its dénouement... soon the end credits would roll... soon I would switch off the box and lean back and reflect on the exciting episode I had just enjoyed.

But... no!

Suddenly Inspector John Luther was plunged into a new case... bodies had been found... etcetera.

It dawned on me. Somebody at ZDF... a channel which I have long regarded as my 'television home'... had decided that the ten episodes of the BBC series should be broadcast on five successive Sundays as double episodes. The stupidity and arrogance of this left me speechless. The writing of 'Luther' is extremely clever and perfectly calibrated. The series narrative arc is strong and compelling, the episode storylines are subtly integrated to result in a fifty-minute masterpiece. How could the ZDF have so little respect for the craft of writing? How could those responsible ignore the fact that the television audience is very savvy when it comes to narrative construction. Not that they have studied writing, but they have consumed thousands of hours of television fiction and been conditioned to expect a story to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

And so the ZDF has clearly not only a cavalier attitude to the creatives behind 'Luther' but a disdain for the expectations of viewers. And, yes, that makes me mad! This is the kind of decision making which will hasten the demise of linear television  broadcasting  and could well send discerning viewers in search of the single episodes on a torrent site.

Oh I shall probably tune in again tomorrow... and wince after fifty minutes. I shall amuse myself by trying to spot the exact cut point which marks the start of the second episode of the evening.

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