Television can be a snooty business. When the National Television Awards started in 1995 there were those who muttered that having the public decide on industry prizes was akin to letting the barbarians through the gates and offering them canapés.
After all, what did ordinary punters know? Much better, some thought, to do things in the traditional Bafta style, with juries of the great and the glamorous making decisions behind closed doors. Preferably the closed doors of a plush hotel, with nice goody bags to take home afterwards.
That year, Bafta anointed Between the Lines as its best drama. You may or may not remember it – Neil Pearson, police thriller, dark and moody? No, I thought not. I loved every minute and I can’t remember it, either.
But I bet you do remember Soldier Soldier, in which Robson Green and Jerome Flynn first rippled across our screens in khaki and camo paint. It was no great surprise when Soldier Soldier won that first NTA gong.
So suppose the producers of those two series met in a pub. They could argue long and hard about which of their dramas was the bigger deal. But Soldier Soldier would always have the clincher on its side: democracy.
Because the National TV Awards are rubberstamped by the big fist of a popular vote, forever and indubitably Soldier Soldier is enshrined as the nation’s favourite drama of 1994. Simple as that. End of.
And that’s the beauty of the NTAs. They’re inarguable. Which, sadly, Bafta juries very much aren’t; they have been known to throw up decisions so perverse that when the result is read from the golden envelope you can hear the half-second of inhalation in the auditorium as hundreds of TV folk digest a clunker.
We sofa-loving fans at home have no such intrigue to trouble us. If Sherlock was our favourite drama of 2012, we’ll jolly well vote for it, and if it beats Downton Abbey by so much as one vote then, bingo, it’s the NTAs’ winner.
Mind you, after last year’s triumph for the Earl of Grantham and his family, the Baker Street man has his work cut out. And looking at the nominations you’ll notice other interesting face-offs this year. Take the talent show category. Last year The X Factor came out top, but after a chaotic recent run with sliding ratings, Britain’s Got Talent could steal its wobbly crown. Or perhaps The Voice UK? Both face the uphill battle of having been on air longer ago (generally, fresher in the memory = more votes) but you never know.
Given the all-conquering triumph that is Sherlock, you’d expect Benedict Cumberbatch to stroll it for best actor, but if there’s a Doctor in the house the smart money might be on last year’s winner, Matt Smith. It’s worth noting that David Tennant won the prize an impressive four years in a row, so Smith has a tough act to follow.
Another multiple NTA winner is BBC2’s Top Gear, but this year the tyre smoke trio face a new challenger. Can they compete with the floury marvel that is The Great British Bake Off? It’s sump oil versus clarified butter, soft-tops versus soggy bottoms – and in some households, let’s be honest here, men versus women.
But if Mary Berry joins Jeremy Clarkson for a sherry in the pub afterwards (and we can only hope such things happen), only one of them will have bragging rights. That’s the NTAs for you: settling pub arguments since 1995.