⬆ Year One: The lighter side 

11 April 2017 tbs.pm/11336

A TELEVISION network must serve the tastes of many kinds of viewers. There must be light entertainment as well as serious drama, popular music and variety as well as news, information and discussion.

Some of television’s most difficult problems have arisen in providing light entertainment which is original, fresh and suitable to the medium.

The music-hall, the ‘straight’ theatre, the cinema and the kerb-side busker have evolved patterns of light entertainment that can be traced back to the Commedia dell’ Arte. The range is wide and well-established, from the red-nosed dialect comedian to the sophisticated satirist in the topical revue; from the broad music-hall sketch with collapsing honeymoon beds and nagging mothers-in-law to the acidulated intellectual skit. By means of varying formulae, sometimes traditional, sometimes based on American models, sometimes new and indigenous, the media of light entertainment have striven to excite the belly-laugh, or the civilized chuckle.

Today television is the major medium of light entertainment, and it sets a fast pace. An old-time comic could tour the halls for a couple of years with the same opening gag, the same patter, the same sentimental songs, the same exit line. Transpose him to television and he must create his act anew with each appearance: every night is opening night; indeed, for television programme-planners, every night can be the opening nights of half-a-dozen half-hours to be filled with fresh entertainment.

‘Spot the Tune’. A contestant faces the camera with Marion Ryan

Even in the pioneering days it became clear that it was not enough merely to put the stage performer before the camera and leave him to go through his act as in the theatre. There is a place for this kind of entertainment in television — in the straightforward music-hall programme before a live audience, for example — but it is not original television. It is music-hall photographed for TV—a kind of outside broadcast.

So far, four main distinct types of television light entertainment have been evolved; the situation comedy, the viewer participation programme, the ‘series’ programme, and the personality programme.

It is, perhaps, not too fanciful to relate the popularity of some at least of these four kinds of programme to the intensely domestic nature of the medium. Television is part of modern family life: ‘going to a show’ is an occasional family event—or, more often, something that individual members of the family do on their own, or with friends.

Ready to start the programme: Eleanor Summerfield in ‘My Wife’s Sister’ awaits her cue to face the cameras

The appeal of the situation comedy is based on the regular presentation of a group of characters who are, in time, thought of almost as intimates of the family. The situations in which they are involved are not impossibly remote from the viewers’ own family experience, but everyday life is transmitted in them by comic exaggeration. Granada’s most successful essay in this field was My Wife’s Sister, featuring Eleanor Summerfield — a series considered by some critics equal to the most popular American situation comedies.

Quizzes and panel-games give the viewer, vicariously or in person, some degree of participation. When the quiz or panel-game involves the questioning of experts on their own subjects, viewer-participation is almost entirely vicarious. Most viewers cannot themselves know most of the answers, but they identify themselves intensely with the studio contestants: they share their delight in winning and their despondency in defeat—and take pride in their sportsmanship in accepting the toughest challenges.

A hostess of the show ‘Make Up Your Mind’ waits, out of camera range, to bring on the first contestant

The sense of participation is keener in the type of quiz and panel-game requiring an average standard of general knowledge and experience. Here the viewer is on the same level as the studio contestant or panel. He can pit his wits against the programme in competition with the contestants. It has been Granada’s policy to produce
shows of this type, such as ‘Spot the Tune’, ‘Make Up Your Mind’ and ‘Black and White’, rather than the more limited and expert type of panel and quiz programme.

The ‘series’ programmes — sometimes semi-documentary in character — consist either of short self-contained playlets featuring regular characters or of ‘continued-in-our-next’ serials which seek to create suspense by melodramatic plot-structure.

With the exception of the music-hall show, the personality programme is perhaps the least intrinsically televised form of light entertainment on tv. It consists, basically, of a sketch or recital built round a popular comedian or singer, and is really an offshoot of the stage revue. In television, however, this type of programme can sometimes have a more immediate impact on the audience than is possible in even an intimate living theatre.

Television cannot be static. Its enormous consumption of material and the developing tastes of viewers demand constant experiments not least in light entertainment. On first nights, every night, every week, this will always be a major challenge to television producers and artists.

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