I Heart Jeremy Paxman
My first job in television was in 1992. I was hired as a presenter on a teenage entertainment programme. I reviewed films, interviewed actors and pop stars and had loads of fun with Gareth. Within the first month or two of me being hired, I was interviewed by the Head of Marketing at the channel. They wanted to find out more about me so they could work out how they ‘sold’ me to the press.
One of the first things I was asked was, ‘Why do you want to present tv programmes?’ I suspect they were assuming I’d answer ‘Cos I want to be famous.’… instead I told them, ‘I think of it as being something like a teacher. I pass knowledge onto the audience. It’s not about me, it’s about the information.’ I was 22 years old. I must have sounded like a pretentious twunt.
The truth is, however, that’s how I’ve always seen it. It doesn’t take a whole lot of talent to talk into a camera – guts, perhaps, but not talent. For whatever reason, I am able to stand in front of a camera and speak in a relatively relaxed and realistic way. Whatever. I don’t think it’s remotely important in the grand scheme of things. The genuinely interesting people are the interviewees, not the interviewer, because they’ve actually done something more than be able to think whilst someone else is pointing a camera at them. That’s not the way a lot of tv presenters (and the execs who hire presenters) think.
Generally though, most people who I’ve worked over the years with have gone into television because ‘they have something to say’. In the last few years, however, there seems to have been a huge shift within the industry as a whole. The erosion seems to have started from the top, but is now being flooded from the bottom… These days, it’s not at all about actually saying *anything*, it’s about filling the time between adverts ‘competently enough’ (or, if it’s the BBC, it’s all about the results of some focus group poll: “they want emotion, not facts”). That’s why I started doing New Media stuff…
Yesterday, Jeremy Paxman made a speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival There and there are just far, far too many things in it that I want to quote here. I will start with this:
For most of the media, most of the time, the motivation has always been pretty simple: you grab as much of the potential audience as possible, in order that you can screw the maximum amount of money out of them. Television was different because those who made it had a different sense of intention. In those more innocent days – and it applied to both the BBC and the commercial sector, producers made programmes because they were passionately engaged with the world and wanted to communicate what they’d found out. Too much of the time now they simply pick things from the world which look as if they might make good television, regardless of whether they do anything other than meet the demands of a format. To put it simply, people at the top are less concerned with content and a lot more concerned with bottom lines. There are too many people in this industry whose answer to the question what is television for? is to say ‘to make money.’
I suggest you make yourself a cuppa and go read the whole thing.