Do you ever, in your head, pretend that you are a channel controller? I do. It’s fun. Of course, I will never in real life become a channel controller, so in my fantasy version I can do as I please, free to abuse my powers with Stalinist levels of cruelty.
As Controller of the Alison Channel, I would be a pedantic and unforgiving mistress. I will have a lacquered black desk the size of a Mediterranean isthmus and be accompanied at all times by a pack of restless, howling Dobermans. I will roam the corridors of my empire to terrorise cowering employees, making known my displeasure at the squashing of end credits and the unnecessary intrusion of soundtrack music.
But, above all, I will make my audience wait. I will dispense TV pleasures with a degree of parsimony that borders on the psychopathic. And I will do this for their own good. As a viewer, just like you, I am quite happy to look forward to my treats. Please, by the time it arrives on Sky Atlantic next month, I will have waited 16 months for the fifth series of Mad Men.
Sixteen months. That’s a long time to sit in my front room, pinning pictures of Jon Hamm on the chimney breast as I practise writing “Mrs Jon Hamm” in my exercise book and wondering what it would be like to stroke his hair. (This latter scenario is hypothetical and I provide it only as a means of illustration, you understand.)
So as a pretend channel controller I applaud BBC4, in the teeth of heavy online pressure from fans, for not rushing out series two of Borgen and, before that, putting the second series of The Killing on a high shelf for a few months. (As I applaud BBC1 for taking its time over a second clutch of Sherlocks – the equivalent of making three feature films, says the man himself, Steven Moffat.)
As a small, niche channel with a future that we all know isn’t entirely certain, I too would want to keep my audience interested in my output as a whole, riding the crest of the wave of interest sparked by my big-ticket items. If I can keep people in a state of happy anticipation while giving them something new and interesting to enjoy in the meantime, then I will have done my job well. Borgen will return, probably next year. In the meantime – look what we’ve got!
Channels as small as BBC4 are entitled to build on their successes rather than fire their victory cannons all at once. Both The Killing and Borgen (and, before that, the beloved Swedish Wallander) went out in that Saturday night “subtitled slot”, which is, as a consequence, now a look-forward-to night, where we can find good foreign stuff like Spiral (French) and, now in its second week, Inspector Montalbano (Italian), plus in future the Scandi dramas Lilyhammer, Sebastian Bergman and The Bridge.
BBC4 has thus cleverly carved a niche and is now the go-to place for exciting, thoughtful Euro-imports for bright people like you and me. So, for BBC4’s sake, we can all afford to wait for our favourites.
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 14 February 2012.