Why television IS literature

TV has been elevated into an art form, says Alison Graham

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Artist Grayson Perry, looking sensational in a pearl-studded evening dress, made a perceptive little speech as he accepted a well-deserved Bafta for his smashing C4 series All in the Best Possible Taste: “I love telly. Telly is now our literature.” You could almost feel the collective breast of a room full of television industry people flutter with pride because he was dead right and someone who’s not actually a TV insider needed to say it.

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But you and me, we know how clever and important television is and always has been. Only now, though, can it really, truly flourish in every intellectual and emotional way possible thanks to our avalanche of channels. We have so much more choice, which only makes us more choosy. In the old days – remember them, when we had just three channels? – you pretty much had to watch everything or nothing. Oh how I remember the bloody Horse of the Year Show which seemed to be on every night of every week. If you weren’t horsey then though, there was precious little else.

Now, we can pick and choose, and what’s more those choices are informed. We take advice, from professionals or from our pals on social networks. We can look up the antecedents of actors, directors, writers and producers on the internet and make our judgements.

We can immediately respond to and discuss what delights us and what infuriates us. Clever, bold and literate shows that would never have fitted in anywhere during those three-channel days (Breaking Bad, the Bafta Radio Times Audience Award winner Game of Thrones, Girls, Mad Men) can find a home where they are cherished by knots of devotees.

Television IS literature, it’s what makes us buzz and bloom, enthuse and denounce. Just think of how excited Sherlock Holmes fans were back when Arthur Conan Doyle issued stories in instalments. And now think of how 21st-century Sherlock TV fans have been in a fervid state of juddering excitement since the “What the hell happened there?” series finale in January last year.

Look at astonishingly clever, complex dramas like Murder (a BBC2 Bafta-winner that I’m pleased to say will return as a series), The Fall and, of course, Broadchurch, that captured the public’s imagination in its big net of excellent characterisation and perfect storytelling.

Not that any of this has replaced or supplanted novels. Reading is a singular joy and bookshops are places of infinite heavenly delights. I read hugely and widely, I get nervous if I forget my book, which means I fidget on the train during my commute and read over people’s shoulders. (Don’t sit next to me, I will read not only pages of your book, but also your texts, emails, diary and letters. It’s a compulsion, don’t judge me).

But, you know what, you can love television and you can love books, too. Ignore that Roald Dahl poem where he says “So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.” You can have both. I do.


Farwell beloved Southland

I am in my mourning weeds, I am wearing Whitby jet jewellery and I have covered the mirrors with black cloths. My dear friends, Southland has been cancelled. I am bereft, as are its fans around the world. Southland (shown here on More4) was a terrific cop show in the mould of Hill Street Blues. It had a vérité feel as we followed uniformed officers and detectives around the mean, sun-parched  streets of South Los Angeles (hence SouthLAnd) responding to crimes both big and small.

Southland has been cancelled before, after just one series by NBC, but it was picked up by the cable station TNT. Now, after four series, it too has pulled the plug. I feel a real sense of loss because I will miss them all — Coop, Sammy, Lydia, Ben — and our trips in the squad car.

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