In place of the advertised programme…
26 Jan 2017 5 comments. tbs.pm/10606
The lady at the other end of the telephone was very angry. Her son had been expecting to watch a special edition of ‘Tom and Jerry.’ Instead, he had found himself seeing, as she had put it, yet more of the Apollo 8 Moonshot. His mother left no doubt about her views on the wisdom of the BBC’s decision. Nor did many other callers that afternoon. Their anger equalled that of those viewers who had protested three days earlier at the decision on that afternoon to show the advertised programme, ‘Jackanory,’ instead of more of the space flight. This had led to many complaints from enthusiastic admirers of what was, after all, one of man’s greatest feats of exploration. The programme planner may reflect that he can rarely hope to win!
When ‘Radio Times’ goes on sale to the public it gives details of all the BBC programmes for the coming week. These programme schedules are the climax of many months of preparation. Indeed, for events like the Olympic Games planning may have gone on over a period of years. Naturally enough, people tend to arrange their week’s activities round the programmes they want to see. It may be a serial they are following, a documentary on a subject of particular interest, or a series of quizzes. And few people are more devoted to their favourite programmes than children. It is, therefore, a serious matter to many viewers or listeners if, for some reason, after ‘Radio Times’ has been published, programmes have to be postponed or cancelled.
Yet, occasionally at the last minute, change really is necessary. The reasons may be tragic. A leading public figure may have died, or some disaster struck which involves the whole community in distress. The extent to which programmes are then disrupted depends on an interpretation of the public’s need for information and of the public’s mood. Too much displacement of published programmes may lead people to think that the event is even worse than it seems. Too little can lead to accusations that a particular occasion is not being given sufficient attention.
There are no hard-and-fast rules. No standard work exists to guide the planner in every set of circumstances. He has to trust to experience, which is growing more considerable as the years pass. But just as the public expects to be kept informed by television and radio about dramatic events as soon as they happen, so the broadcasters have to try to keep in mind the sensitivity of public reaction at such times.
On other occasions, the disturbance of schedules is more debatable. Should the climax of a golf tournament, which millions have been following for several days, take priority over a children’s programme? Should a football match, which unexpectedly lasts beyond its scheduled time, be allowed to elbow out the recital for which many viewers are waiting? The rights and wrongs of particular decisions, which often have to be taken against a background of swiftly moving events, can be argued almost endlessly, with nothing to prove which answer would have been correct.
The fact that it is usually some item of news or a sporting event which causes disruption leads to understandable criticism from those who do not care for sport or feel that news, outside a bulletin, has no great interest for them. But, of course, there are many others who hold contrary views. All this has to be weighed by the programme planner. Yet the unexpected continually occurs. Rain can delay a cricket match; the dramatic highspots of space exploration are not always predictable; and, even in these publicity conscious days, not every political coup is arranged to suit programme schedules.
For these reasons a broadcasting service cannot cling too inflexibly to its schedules. If it did, it would — in the long run — be denying its audiences much of the medium’s ability to reflect what happens as it happens.