LOCKDOWN television is in its first wave and so far so predictable. We have seen an understandable rise in public information media, news about the Covid-19 virus, updates from the front-line of emergency care and information on the latest rituals in supermarket protocols. Ciaran Jenkins’s short Channel 4 films from the Scottish care sector have been a breath of fresh air, a glimpse into the lives of the frontline workers but without the need for the kind of denunciation or crude editorialising that often deadens other news broadcasts.

There has been a marked increased in the already buoyant culture of binge-watching, where viewers settle on a box-set of shows, which they can gorge on like a hungry epicurean, and there has been an exponential rise in DIY media, people broadcasting from their own homes as lockdown limits their capacity to move around.

The rising star of at-home streaming is the “The Body Coach” Joe Wicks, a self-styled PE teacher for the millions. Each morning Wicks does a 20-minute keep-fit routine in his own front room and broadcasts the work-outs live on his YouTube channel. It has been an unqualified success, although, like a lifelong television executive, Wicks massages his viewing figures upwards and rarely refers to a drop-off.

Full of self-belief, Wicks shamelessly publicises his relationship with his audience and like a retro-disco DJ in a pub in Croydon, his “shouts outs” consist of barely decipherable names fed to him through an ear-piece by his off-screen brother, Nicky.

Joe Wicks has one of those insufferable estuary accents that convey supreme over-confidence and rank stupidity in equal measure – he is a man who thinks that star jumps are answer to Covid-19, and like Alan Partridge in a neon T-shirt, he delivers his show with abdominal religiosity. “The Honeywell family from Huddersfield – I love you all.” Friday is fancy dress day, Wicks in a velour Spider-Man costume and kids across the UK doing press-ups as Harry Potter or Marshall from Paw Patrol. As HL Mencken nearly said, no-one has gone bust underestimating the intelligence of the British public.

Capturing both the zeitgeist and the quick buck, Wicks is handing all the profits he makes from YouTube advertising to the NHS. It is a noble gesture, but you sense he has something hidden up the stookie that covers his broken left wrist. Watch carefully at the ejaculating way he welcomes audiences in Dubai – I suspect a get-rich tour of the Arab Emirates awaits him as soon as the virus warms down.

The other huge phenomenon in the first phase of lockdown is the retreat to nostalgia and the reappearance of shows from the archives. There is superficial charm in seeing old shows, but heritage television ain’t what it used to be. Many of the shows of the past have been perpetually rerun on digital channels like Alibi and Yesterday, clipped on YouTube or already available on the media players of the major broadcasters. So what once felt like special is already overly familiar or too easy to access to be dressed up as a treat.

I have always resisted the way that football fans in particular wallow in the past. For those of us that fear Scotland’s great footballing moments are stuck in the 1960s and 1970s, football nostalgia has long been part of the problem, not the solution. Last week the BBC in Scotland re-ran the 1991 Scottish Cup Final in which Motherwell defeated Dundee United in extra time. Long since treasured as one of the great moments in club football, it was a tribute to brutality and guttural emotions with only glimpsing moments of subtle technique. It was a typical Scottish cup-tie and that is either a good thing or a monumental set-back depending on your view of Scotland’s status in world football.

Let’s not forget, although the show itself largely did, this was the “Ravenscraig final”, the game that coincided with a totemic moment in the story of industrial decline. It was the backdrop against which the Scottish Labour Party lost its invincibility and the place so bitterly portrayed in Deborah Orr’s posthumously published memoir Motherwell.

Here was a game crying out for context but like so much nostalgic television it was all just back there somewhere, in the mists of a half-remembered past, stripped of complexity or deeper social meaning. Like The Rock ’n’ Roll Years, it was a disconnected memory – history recycled as a series of vague yesteryears.

ANOTHER obvious facet of lockdown television has been the decimation of the film and television production sector. Broadcasters in the commercial sector are facing the dire consequences of plunging revenues and half-finished shows. Great swathes of the schedules for the remainder of the year and the early part of 2021 are empty, as events like Glastonbury, Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Edinburgh festivals have been cancelled.

Worse still, nearly all major dramas, the soaps and studio format production has been stood down, which makes next year’s schedules look like a desolate landscape in dire need of new buildings.

The impact on television has sent shivers of concern through the broadcasting industry. Some have hypothesised that the virus will unleash a crisis of confidence in television and that advertising revenues will either dry up or be redirected to other forms of media.

Commercial television puts on regular “upfronts” – lavish programme launches that look ahead to the months to come, to allow advertisers to strategise where they will allocate their resources.

Advertisers are normally looking for two entirely contradictory and incoherent things – what’s new and what is predictable. In other words, they want to be excited by new shows and new concepts but what they really want is the reassurance that well known shows are returning, so that they can know in advance what demographics, by age, gender and socio-economic categorisation, they can rely on. It is risk-taking with belt and braces or innovation with known outcomes: the very enemy of true creativity.

One of the big settled presumptions of the lockdown era is that the coronavirus will hasten the shift from linear viewing to on-demand and that the unambiguous winners will be the big US corporations, among them Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple TV.

According to some industry veterans, we are at a proverbial tipping point, where television as we know it is under perilous threat. Set against that is a powerful counter-argument. The big streaming services are essentially “dumb” – they are not capable of responding to the moment, of going live to their audience or of honing their programmes to very specific markets. They offer up a largely Americanised view of global taste, led by murder investigations, crime dramas and fantasy but struggle with comedy, clever factual and news.

Nor are organisations like Netflix immune from lockdown either. When Tom Hanks announced on March 11 that he had tested positive for coronavirus, he was in Australia on the Warner

Brothers set of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic, playing Presley’s calculating manager Colonel Tom Parker. The show as was shut down immediately and created a domino effect across the production process. The Warner Bros Television group halted production on more than 70 series and pilots and Walt Disney Television put 16 pilots and a swathe of current shows on hiatus. Amazon shut down Lord Of The Rings, and pushed the pause button on all their original series. Netflix shut down all scripted film and TV production.

The situation is unprecedented. There has never been a pandemic that has threatened so many core pieces of media at the same time. Next year is already a ghost town and it would be a very brave or foolhardy speculator that would predict what we will be watching on the other side of the pandemic.

In the future, old Scottish cup finals may still be available somewhere, but hopefully they will have a brief shelf-life as contemporary television readjusts. An indiscriminate appeal to the past is hardly the best advert for an industry so full of its own importance.

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