The Culture Show's worthless nibbles at "accessible" arts at least produce one big message: the BBC needs to go right back to the basics of arts coverageby David Herman / January 16, 2005 / Leave a comment
There are three things wrong with BBC2’s The Culture Show: wrong slot, wrong editor, wrong idea.
If you are creating a new show to help correct the decline of the BBC’s arts coverage, why put it on at 7pm on Thursday? You are running against both Channel 4 News, which attracts a big chunk of your natural constituency, and Front Row, Radio 4’s arts magazine, which pulls in the rest. Repeating The Culture Show at 11.20pm – the old Late Show slot after Newsnight – just adds insult to injury. It is too late at night, and invites comparisons which don’t do it any favours. The programmes are worlds apart. The Culture Show is a magazine programme, with seven or eight items, none of them running at more than ten minutes. The Late Show constantly rang the changes, running items at anything between three and 23 minutes and sometimes dedicating a whole 40 minutes to an important figure or subject.
When The Culture Show had Robert Hughes reporting on the reopening of Moma, did no one think, “We’ve got a big subject, a major critic, let’s run it for 30 or 40 minutes”? All we got was a desultory eight minutes. By then, anyone interested would have read Hughes’s piece in the Guardian anyway, so the whole thing smacked of bad timing and loss of will. The Late Show would not have made the same mistake.
This is about a bigger difference: a lack of passion. Someone who asked Robert Hughes to make a longer film about Moma would only have done so because they believed Moma matters – it’s the biggest art story of the year – and because they believed what Hughes had to say mattered. All four editors of The Late Show had this in common: they passionately believed some things mattered more than others. They commissioned whole programmes on the death of Rudolf Nureyev or William Golding, or on the work of Tony Harrison or Czeslaw Milosz, or whole weeks on Russian, French or Italian culture, because they thought these things mattered. All The Culture Show’s little six or ten minute items betray a loss of confidence at the top, an inability to say that one thing matters more than another.
The question of editorial commitment is closely linked to a key feature of The Late Show: the importance of opinion and polemic. On The…