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TV can’t just wallow in nostalgia, says Bafta boss

Who dares wins

Published: Saturday, 3rd September 2016 at 4:00 pm

For those of you who like to wallow in nostalgia – and let’s face it, those flared jeans come out of the back of the closet every few years – it’s TV heaven currently. And there’s no need to press the Gold button on your remote control to relive television’s glorious yesteryear. Amid a general mood of yearning, ITV recently announced the return of classic game show, Blankety Blank. A huge hit for the BBC when it launched in 1979 with Terry Wogan at the helm, it was last aired on ITV 14 years ago when Paul O’Grady’s alter ego, Lily Savage, entertained us.


We’re now enjoying the revival of Robot Wars on BBC2. Coming this week to a TV near you to warm your autumnal evenings, the revamped Poldark returns to BBC1 for a second series, while ITV has updated Cold Feet. And for those of us wistful for the good old days (pun intended) of comedy, the BBC has indulged us with a season of favour

We’ve got new episodes of Are You Being Served? and Porridge, while BBC4’s re-creations of three lost classics are giving us the chance to marvel at Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe & Son and Till Death Us Do Part.

So why this tsunami of nostalgia now? Of course, for those in charge of our viewing in this confusing digital world, it’s less risky to relaunch shows with familiar names. After all, it’s proven to be hugely successful with Doctor Who, and I put my hands up to originally commissioning Strictly Come Dancing. But as the average age of the TV viewing audience is rising year by year, are broadcasters bowing to the tastes of their veteran viewers because the younger ones are notoriously elusive? Cold Feet was created for the thirty-something generation, so bringing back the same characters and actors should be a real treat for its original audience who are now nudging their fifties.

But have broadcasters lost their nerve? No pain, no gain might be a cliché, but I’d argue you have to risk huge failure to land those era-defining hit shows. Big Brother was probably the last truly original entertainment format. Who’d have guessed that watching a bunch of complete unknowns doing nothing very much in a specially constructed house would reverberate around the world?

And it was a brave soul who blitzed the schedule on a nightly basis with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, a quiz that broke every rule but had us gripped. Who dares wins. And for goodness sake, if it doesn’t work out, it’s only telly after all.

With the advent of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, viewing habits are changing. No more waiting a week for the next episode. We can now binge on the latest talked-about phenomenon like Breaking Bad or Making a Murderer, the real-crime event that Netflix launched just before last Christmas. Its impact continues to reverberate as Brendan Dassey, one of its subjects, has recently had his conviction for murder overturned in the US – that is powerful television.

Stranger Things, starring Winona Ryder – which combines 80s nostalgia with stunning originality – was allegedly turned down many times, but Netflix took a punt on it and it’s become this summer’s word-of-mouth sensation. There’s something about the shock of the new that will always be more exciting. Interestingly, Netflix refuses to reveal how many people watch its shows, freeing them from the tyranny of audience ratings.


Is that what it takes to find TV’s next big hit, or will we soon be reading about the revival of Crossroads?


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