Simon Hoggart

Channel surfing

Channel surfing

I answered the door the other day and a cheerful, rangy Afro-Caribbean youth stood on the step with a remote control. I suddenly recalled the appointment. ‘You’re the cable guy,’ I said. He looked affronted. ‘Cable guy, eh? No, I’m the television engineer!’

Half an hour later, the engineer had installed digital TV, and we now have 129 channels. This is more than most people need. Channel surfing at, say, 8.30 a.m. can be deeply depressing. For instance, we now have Channel 4, so we can watch Big Brother. But we also have E4, so we can watch Big Brother highlights all day. And we now have a channel called E4+1, which allows us to watch the Big Brother house live, around the clock. This Tuesday morning the camera showed two people fast asleep. Next they may launch E4+2, the Watching Paint Dry channel.

Bweep! The Discovery Channel! ‘This gigantic garden hoe can churn up 22 feet at a time, an area the size of 15 football fields in one hour!’ we learn, though without much excitement. There are innumerable music channels, children’s channels, news and sports channels, though mercifully only one religious channel, called, with admirable simplicity, ‘God’. There are around a dozen movie channels, some showing films you might want to watch; others with titles that seem vaguely familiar but aren’t — Project X, The Hunted, 25th Hour, Only The Strong. You sense they didn’t go ‘straight to video’ but bypassed that and went straight to Sky Movies 8.

All of which makes me grateful for the shows that still get big audiences, which these days means anything over 4 million people. They are the kind of programmes that three decades ago might have got 12 million, and everyone would have talked about them at work the next day.

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