I was recently at a party and accidentally found myself in conversation with a banker. I say “conversation”; it was largely him talking about house prices, tax rates and Land Rovers while I mutely nodded. I knew I was in particular trouble when he started barking about the trouble he’s having selling his Jet Ski because “nobody Jet Skis any more.”
Eventually he ran out of gas and was forced to ask me what I do for a living. I explained a little about Pointless and told him it was a daytime television show, and he immediately roared with laughter. He actually gave me an old-fashioned punch on the arm and said, “Watched by the sort of people who sit around the house all day? Ha-ha-ha! Poor you!”
I smiled politely and mumbled a reply, but after he’d left I wished I’d had the gumption to say what I really thought. Which would go something like this…
“Let’s take a close look at who watches daytime television, shall we? We’ll start with retired people. That’s people who’ve worked their socks off for 50-odd years, sometimes doing something they love, sometimes doing something they hate, simply to feed and support a family, but all the while gaining the sort of wisdom and insight that any advertiser will tell you means they’re the most discerning audience in the country. You can’t fool them with hype, you can’t sell them rubbish, and you won’t find them watching The Only Way Is Essex. In fact, their only real problem is that you managed to ruin the world economy and mess up their pensions.
“Who else? Students! Not students like you and I were, with fees paid and futures bright and shiny. Rather a generation who have faced exams every year of their school lives, are now having to pay their own tuition fees, and who are about to enter a world in which they won’t be able to buy a house until they’re 40. And I’m just trying to remember why they can’t get mortgages any more? Oh, of course, that was you, too!
“Then there are people who work from home, an ever-growing band. I know, from plenty of feedback, that daytime television often acts as a timekeeper to their day. Start work after Heir Hunters, lunch with the News, pretend to work all afternoon and then clock off when the theme tune to Pointless begins. Or the theme tune to The Chase if they want to knock off 15 minutes early.
“You’ve also got young parents seeking a friendly adult voice, those unable to work, for long-term health reasons (you want to find an intelligent television audience, try them for size), shift workers, rich people who don’t need to work, stand-up comedians who all get up about 3pm, people bunking off work with a slight sore throat, and of course everyone who works in the TV sales department of John Lewis.
“They all want intelligent, entertaining television, and British TV is uniquely good at delivering it. The budgets in daytime TV are tiny, yet the shows are made with love and care and wit. Those tiny budgets explain why daytime shows are so very long-running. It is cheaper to make 100 hours of the same show than 25 hours each of four different shows. But this conversely gives daytime TV one of its great charms. It has a familiarity and routine that very quickly makes it part of the family.
“Daytime TV doesn’t get written about often, doesn’t have its own category in the Baftas, and it doesn’t get reviewed in the broadsheets, but I know, from the many people who contact me, that it is watched by an extremely broad, extremely funny and extremely nice group of people. And I don’t think a single one of them cares less about whether people still Jet Ski or not. Now, can I get you another drink?”
Of course I would never have said any of this to him because I was brought up too well and it would have meant spending another two minutes in his company. Maybe he’ll read this, but he didn’t really strike me as one of life’s great readers.
Richard Osman co-hosts Pointless, Monday to Friday at 5:15pm on BBC1
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