I’m sure in 100 years time there will be no televisions. Every drama, documentary and comedy will be automatically downloaded into a chip inserted at birth into everyone’s brains. All anyone will have to do will be simply to think about an episode of Homes under the Hammer and it will appear in their consciousness. Actually, that’s not much different from today, come to think of it. Homes under the Hammer – does it ever rest?
So maybe it would be redundant leaving two-headed gorgons visiting from the Planet Splodge a TV time capsule full of DVDs of the programmes that made us what we are. Instead, let’s leave this TV time capsule for the questing, eager frontiersmen and women in 100 years time who, I confidently predict, will still have DVD players because what else do you put on the shelf by the telly?
What should this notional time capsule contain? It’s a question Radio Times editor Ben Preston and I put to an audience at the recent Cheltenham Literature Festival. There was a lot of argument. How could we possibly boil down a lifetime’s television to a mere seven categories, one for every day of the week? Should we choose television that touched our minds or our hearts? Or both? In the end, it was probably more the latter than the former, and after everyone offered suggestions we decided the outcome via that most scrupulous of democratic processes – a show of hands.
Here’s what we will pretend to seal up in our imaginary canister: Blackadder (the Elizabethan second series) is our comedy for posterity; State of Play, Paul Abbott’s peerless 2003 thriller is British drama at its best; Seven Up!, the series that became a fascinating sociological study of a country in flux, was the documentary of choice; The Generation Game under the stewardship of Bruce Forsyth was the Saturday-night show that won our audience’s hearts; the attack on the World Trade Center was the event that left its indelible mark on our guests, who decided viewers of the future would need sombre reflection. And finally the runaway winner of our wildcard category was Sherlock (the Benedict Cumberbatch version).
I can hear you now, wailing in fury. It’s a rubbish list! What about The Wire! What about The West Wing! You missed out Friends! Cheers! Life on Earth! But this wasn’t a solid-state science project. We wanted a debate and we wanted to take the temperature of a roomful of viewers at a vivid and exciting time for television while also asking them to look back at programmes that shaped what we love today.
Yes, we watch things in different ways, and everyone has different views, but at heart, we are the same – we love television and we are not ashamed to shout about it.