TV UK, 2 December

Hamming it up on The Medici and Panorama.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

Watching the opening credits to Channel 4’s new history series The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance on Saturday night, I thought I’d got the wrong channel and tuned into Xena: Warrior Princess. Let’s just say the narrator overplayed the fantastic qualities of the Medici story. I mean, murder, intrigue, sex and power, sure, but I could swear he said something about centaurs….

Anyway, things did settle down a little once the programme was underway, and we were introduced to Vito and Michael de Medici. The gangster analogy was not underplayed, but at least it has some merit in conveying the dangerous openness of Renaissance Florence. This is more than can be said for the dramatic reconstructions that dominate the programme. How are you supposed to follow the story when you’re constantly making sarcastic comments about the hammy acting? This technique, developed for the hard of imagining, has a similarly frustrating effect to that of subtitles for the hard of hearing. You are constantly distracted from the story by objections to what is on the screen, which never tallies with anything any sensible person would imagine left to their own devices.

I had a similar thought during a Newsnight report about Ukraine on Monday night. It was from Donetsk, the industrial region in the east where the people support Yanukovich and not Yushchenko. Naturally, then, we watched miners in the shower, miners wandering naked to and from the shower, and some more naked miners in the background, on and off for about five minutes. Someone was clearly having a laugh here. Having said that, it was actually a good report, which added depth to the standard presentation of Ukraine, and the divisions between the east and the west, showing that despite corruption, the east is not, unlike Renaissance Florence, full of gangsters. (Or at least that the gangsters may be the best hope of a Renaissance in Ukraine.)

Newsnight certainly has one over on Panorama, supposedly the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme. Sunday night’s programme was a special, revisiting stories covered by Panorama over the past few months to see how things had changed, and indeed how the reports themselves had changed things. It felt like an extended advert for Panorama, except that it only highlighted how awful many Panorama programmes have been. The binge-drinking episode was typical scandal-mongering, loaded with ‘shocking’ pictures of young people enjoying themselves in provincial town centres.

The knife episode had priceless footage of campaigners terrifying schoolchildren with machetes, but was otherwise sensationalist nonsense. Worst of all was the report from Beslan, a mawkish and voyeuristic ‘investigation’ into the effects of the school siege on the children and their families. A little girl who had been interviewed for the programme was revisited. Then her brother had been one of the many unaccounted for; since then he has turned up dead. The girl said she was afraid to go back to school. ‘Why?’ asked the reporter. She didn’t answer. ‘Why?’ he repeated, like Paxman going at a government minister. She began to cry.

In an age dominated by celebrity and reality TV, thank God for serious programming, huh?

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Topics Politics


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