The National Television Awards are voted for by you, the viewer, which automatically makes them unlike any other TV awards. The Baftas and RTS Awards are the glittery fiefdoms of TV insiders and operators, who shortlist, chew over and vote for their favourites. These are people who work in ermine-lined studies while supping fine cordials as liveried servants bring the most delicate sweetmeats. What do they know about telly, the stuff that people actually watch? (The night when Fonejacker won a Bafta for best comedy is forever engraved on my heart. I still have nightmares about it.)
On the other hand, you, the voters, the people clutching highlighters to ring their favourite shows in RT, know what you like and the NTAs and your chance to make your voices heard VERY LOUDLY (it’s a deafening ceremony at the 02 arena in London).
There’s more NTA excitement at RT than usual this year because we have practised our most careworn expression, pulled our scruffiest suit from the wardrobe and thoroughly rehearsed a back story that involves fighting personal demons while having no truck with authority to bring you a new category, the Radio Times TV Detective award. Crime thrillers provide the grit – and the dead bodies – of television dramas and last year Broadchurch was the most talked-about crime thriller in years.
Its two lead detectives, Det Insp Alec Hardy and Det Sgt Ellie Miller (David Tennant and Olivia Colman), the pair who tracked down the killer of young Danny Latimer, are both nominated.
There will, of course, be tough competition for both from Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock, a drama that’s slipped the bonds of being merely a TV series to become a cultural phenomenon, something that’s endlessly, tirelessly speculated over on social network sites. And with Sherlock himself, Cumberbatch has fashioned a caustic, funny crime hero for our times.
But the NTAs aren’t all about detectives, they are about Doctor Who, too, and the best drama performance award surely belongs to Matt Smith, whose farewell as the Time Lord left millions weeping into their turkey sandwiches on Christmas night and should make him a sentimental choice. Doctor Who, which celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special episode featuring Smith’s predecessor David Tennant, is up against Broadchurch in the best drama category, leaving Tennant fans presumably in a bit of a quandary.
It was in 2013 that The Great British Bake Off truly lifted off to become so much more than a rather sweet show about people in a tented kitchen meeting triumph and disaster over sets of scales to become a bona fide, sugar-dusted part of the TV landscape, which explains it’s shortlisting for best factual entertainment. It’s up against Paul O’Grady’s big ITV him, For the Love of Dogs. If anyone can find a baking dog, there’s surely an audience out there somewhere.
I’m pleased to see that Educating Yorkshire, which gave us possibly the most poignant, genuinely life-enhancing, inspirational and moving TV moment of last year, is up for best documentary series.
How many millions of us were helpless with sobs when Musharaf Asghar, freed from the tyranny of his dreadful stammer thanks to his teacher Mr Burton, addressed his school, Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury. Watching an intelligent young man literally find his voice was almost beyond remarkable.
It’s up against Inside Death Row with Trevor McDonald, Paul O’Grady’s soft-Left social history series Working Britain and Penguins: Spy in the Huddle, which was narrated by, er yes,David Tennant. Him again.
Comedies often split audiences so much more bloodily than dramas, and they certainly do divide audiences from critics, so it’s no surprise that the most critically despised/ most hugely successful comedy for many a year, Mrs Brown’s Boys, is in the best comedy list, along with Ricky Gervais’s strange, mawkish Derek, Miranda and American hit The Big Bang Theory.
So dear viewers, it’s all up to you. Who smiles or who sobs on the big night is all in your gift. In the great democracy of TV, the votes are yours – so use them wisely.