Let’s give credit where credit’s due

Whether sped-up to an unreadable blur or minimised to the point of invisibility, devaluing TV end credits devalues programme-makers.

Patrick West
Columnist

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There are two things traditionally understood to have the television viewer reaching for his or her remote control: commercial breaks and end credits. In our zapper, YouTube era of zero concentration and instantaneity, they are regarded as an anathema to the viewer, and likewise perceived by the networks as a proper nuisance. And, consequently, in our age of digital evolution, both are undergoing a process of necessary adaptation.

As I have written before (see Why should we pay the Orwellian licence fee?), the proliferation of television stations in the UK over the past two decades has severely compromised the effectiveness of the commercial break. (And now with Sky+’s pre-record, ‘live pause’, rewind and fast forward facility, you can delay watching your programme by about 10 minutes and skip the adverts altogether.)

Back in the early 1980s, of course, the TV commercial wielded real power. Admittedly, its power may have arisen by default – your parents couldn’t be bothered to get up and turn the station over from ITV, BBC2 was airing a five-hour conference special featuring malcontent windbags from the TUC, or BBC1 was broadcasting some unfunny racist sitcom. But it was power nonetheless.

The digital revolution has changed all that. One phenomenon that illustrates how networks are reacting – or running scared, if you will – is the degree to which programmes are increasingly being individually sponsored: ITV dramas such as Taggart and Midsomer Murders being cases in point. Such sponsorship ensures that the viewer is exposed to the product the instant the programme goes to the break and immediately before it resumes.

Another is the encroachment of product placement within shows, which is now commonplace in the US. Even this unreconstructed pro-capitalist was alarmed to read this week that the Fox 5 channel in Las Vegas is having product placements for McDonald’s on its news bulletins (1).

Television end credits are similarly reacting to the digital change. Most people found credits tolerably boring before the age of the zapper and the multi-channel. How we in the UK used to mock the manner in which the credits in imported US sitcoms used to whizz by on the small screen in an indecipherable blur. This was because, of course, cable television had arrived in the US well before it had become the norm here. Now, the device is the norm on the likes of Richard & Judy, Holby City and Mock The Week, rendering any attempt to decipher the credits as easy as seeking to ascertain which small railway station you are hurtling past on an inter-city train at 90 miles an hour.

Another device now utilised to retain the audience’s attention during the end credit roll is one witnessed in Channel 4’s Deal or No Deal, in which the presenter Noel Edmonds witters on through the end titles, informing viewers of what a (once again) amazing game we have all witnessed. A similar method is that employed at the end of the likes of Hollyoaks, in which the rolling cast and production list is squished to the left of the screen, and a logo of a forthcoming programme on the same channel projected on the right, with a voiceover either explaining the details of its content and scheduling (or, if it is Hollyoaks, giving any viewers who ‘may have been affected by any issues in this programme’ a counselling telephone number to call).

Then there is the BBC alternative solution, which is easily the most irritating. It now reduces the rolling credits to the bottom right hand corner of the screen, where they become so tiny that they might just as well not be there. On the bottom left-hand is a list of forthcoming shows. On the top half of the screen is a plug for yet a different programme. Add to this a voice-over, and the result is utter chaos – that is, cacophony and confusion which ironically always has me reaching for the remote.

The main problem though, as the BBC’s feedback programme Points of View admitted some weeks back, is that some of us actually do watch and enjoy television end credits. Most of the consequent complaints to the BBC have come from those wanting to know which actors played what characters in which dramas, with which I concur. But if I am impressed by the cinematography, casting, the music, there is a bit of me that also seeks to know who has been responsible for this, too. I’m also a stickler for knowing on what location feature-length dramas or films were shot. ITV is particularly bad for curtailing end credits when airing James Bond films at the weekends, or having some shrill voiceover person spoil the mood of the denouement of the movie by abruptly shouting at me that I shouldn’t miss the X-Factor tonight at eight. For heaven’s sake, don’t they realise that James Bond’s wife has just been murdered, and this is not the time or the place?

Perhaps I’m just being a little anal – this I freely concede. And perhaps the journalist in me believes that artistic credit should be given where it is due. Every vision mixer, assistant director, gaffer or best boy wants to see their work recognised on the small or large screen. I know people who work in television, and you’d be surprised what joy it gives them to witness their name scroll up the TV, even for a split second. Journalists are the same. Of course, most people don’t know who we are, and normally couldn’t care less but, sadly, it does matter to us.

So TV end credits may cater to people’s vanity. And they may be boring. But so are academic footnotes, so is the index of a history book, so are the writing credits on the inside cover of a CD. But they matter, because they tell you where something has come from. And in our culture of zero concentration they patiently remind us that much that has been achieved is the product of patient endeavour.

Patrick West is spiked’s TV columnist. Visit his blog here.

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