TV UK, 27 June

From Wimbledon to Damascus: weathering TV's summer schedule.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

London has been hot this week. Not Calcutta hot or Los Angeles hot, but hot. Too hot to watch TV, really, since I have to have the window open, letting the traffic noise in. Which only reminds me that NYPD Blue isn’t on.

Summer is traditionally a bad time for TV anyway, but there’s always something. There are the summer staples for those who like that sort of thing: Wimbledon, Big Brother, Glastonbury. I suppose the Proms will be on soon too. But there is still some good regular stuff on: Channel 4 has The West Wing, Six Feet Under, and a new series of Scrubs. The new season of The Shield is about to join CSI on Channel 5, and there’s baseball on late. ITV1 has The Vice to keep up the cop show quota. (Just steer clear of MIT.)

While we’re on the subject of extreme weather (I said it’s hot, remember?), Surviving Extremes (Channel 4, Mondays at 9pm) is pretty good. This is the second series of the programme in which Nick Middleton travels to uncomfortable places for our entertainment. This week’s adventure in the Congolese jungle was fun, even if the pygmies were disappointingly tall.

Middleton went hunting in the jungle with them, and after several days without success, he was forced to make a Big Brother-style confession. The pygmies had caught him scoffing a tin of sardines that he had smuggled along, and insisted that it was the alien smell that was keeping the animals away. The prospect of a whole tribe of pygmies starving because of a minor misdemeanour cast new light on the term ‘reality TV’.

The BBC’s big launch this week is In Search of Shakespeare (BBC2, Saturday at 9.10pm) with Michael Wood, who has previously gone In the Footsteps of Alexander and In Search of the Trojan War, among other adventures. The pre-publicity is making a great deal of the fact that there has never been a series about Shakespeare’s life before, but that’s because very little is known about it.

This means there is always a danger Wood will resort to speculation to brighten this adventure, but at least he has forsaken dramatic reconstructions. Like all good documentary presenters, Wood has sufficient enthusiasm for the subject not to fall back on gimmicks. Tuesday night’s ‘BBC4 on BBC2’ programme on the role of fruit flies in science was ruined by a patronisingly frivolous tone: ‘Science isn’t boring! Look! Here are some flies shagging!’ It wasn’t much of an advert for the thinking channel.

There seems to have been little attempt to ‘sex up’ Saint Paul (BBC1, Sunday at 7pm), which is presented by world champion triple jumper and Songs of Praise presenter Jonathan Edwards, not someone I associate with glamour and excitement. Presumably, though, he will be not so much walking in the footsteps of Paul, as hopping, skipping and jumping in the footsteps of Paul. Improbably, this is the second series this year about the great evangelist, the first on ITV1 having been presented by another party animal, John McCarthy.

Like cops, pygmies, Shakespeare and even fruit flies, however, Paul makes an interesting subject. That is about all that is needed to make TV in any weather.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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