Thrillingly, this year’s Audience Award at the Baftas comes courtesy of Radio Times and we are bringing you a shimmering shortlist of programmes in the only category voted for by viewers that will allow you to play your part in TV’s big night of the year.
A group of 20 television critics, including me, spent a fun and fractious session as jurors deciding which programmes deserved inclusion. The Great British Bake Off, Call the Midwife, Strictly Come Dancing, Homeland, The Olympics Opening Ceremony and Game of Thrones all made the cut because of their passionate advocates. The rest is up to you.
It’s a coveted prize that’s in the gift of people who actually watch and enjoy television, the fans and the devotees. You do realise I mean you, don’t you?
I’ve been an Audience Award juror for the past few years and I will let you into a little secret and say that my TV critic’s soul has never quite recovered from my inability to stop The Only Way Is Essex and, last year, Keith Lemon’s Celebrity Juice from getting on to the final lists.
They both won, incidentally, and I have never forgotten the appalled look on Martin Freeman’s face when Towie walked away with the prize in 2011.
But that’s democracy for you, the worst form of government except for all the others. This year pretty much the same group of us debated the shortlist of six programmes for the Radio Times Audience Award. It’s an excellent shortlist that was born of the most fiery discussion I can remember.
There was actual shouting. I recall flinging down my pencil more than once and, closeted at Bafta’s headquarters in London, some of us even wondered if we would actually ever get home to our beds.
We agreed, we disagreed, we threw things out, we threw them back in again, we shouted down some really bad suggestions and talked up others, more worthy, that sadly didn’t make it through to the final vote. All of the nominated shows deserve their places.
The Great British Bake Off (BBC2) makes it on to the shortlist for the second year on the trot, for coming out of nowhere, a sweet idea that surprised everyone by becoming a cultural event. Who knew watching people weep over a soggy bottom would become as thrilling as The Sopranos. And it gave us two new stars in Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. And talk about a phenomenon.
Little Call the Midwife (BBC1), a Sunday-night dramatisation of poverty and childbirth in the London East End of the 1950s, became enormous. Writer Heidi Thomas pierced the hearts of more than ten million viewers every week as we followed tyro midwife Jenny Lee in a nursing convent with Jenny Agutter in charge. No one can pin down why Call the Midwife works so well, it just does.
The second series of Homeland (C4) was infuriating, but best not let that aberration get in the way of the first series, which was brilliant. It made Sunday nights properly thrilling, a real appointment-to-view night (because the pleasure of Homeland wasn’t catching up, it was watching as one). Was Damian Lewis’s damaged returned Iraqi war prisoner a terrorist? Or a much misunderstood man?
Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic) delighted people who can’t abide fantasy dramas or anything where people swish about in animal skins. It became a huge online talking point among its fans and, like Mad Men and The Wire, took on a life of its own, recognised even by people who didn’t watch it.
Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1) had its bestever year to become a seamless, completely absorbing competition and a family-viewing peak that wiped the floor with the ramshackle The X Factor on ITV. It’s now become a fixed point in the television calendar.
And there was much nervousness about the Olympics Opening Ceremony. Would it be a success or would it make Britain a laughing stock? It turned out to be a triumph from director Danny Boyle, a bold, sometimes bonkers, celebration of the good things about being British. Best of all, it had the Queen, who uttered the year’s most memorable words: “Good evening, Mr Bond.”
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news