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Hark at Barker

Posted 1st July 2016

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Yesterday there was a bit of consternation about a late schedule change forcing coverage of Wimbledon onto BBC Four and postponing Top of the Pops for an hour. For various reasons I can’t really talk much about that, although expect a THRILLING article about schedule changes generally on here at some point.

I would, however, like to point out something about how Sue Barker ended the show. Over a beauty shot from the grounds:

“Now, coming up next on BBC Four it is Top of the Pops 1982, and it’s a good year for music. A vintage year for tennis as well; Jimmy Connors beat John McEnroe here, and also Martina Navratilova beat Chris Evert. So, that is next here on BBC Four, but I hope you enjoyed our coverage at Wimbledon – we’ll be back with more tomorrow at 11:30. Clare Balding will be here with Today at Wimbledon, that’s at 9:30 on BBC Two. But for now, from Wimbledon, goodbye.”

It’s simply one of the most skilful bits of presenting I’ve ever heard.

Let’s back up for a moment. Wimbledon was rudely plopped onto BBC Four last night due to an overrunning match, and it was clearly done in a bit of a hurry. By the end of the match though, people clearly had a bit of time to get their bearings. And the above piece of presenting does quite a few things.

Firstly, it straightforwardly gives the required information: that Top of the Pops has not been cancelled, merely delayed for an hour. Secondly, it gives the audience reassurance: “Yes, we know you might not have been expecting us, but don’t worry – things are back to normal next.” Thirdly, it’s Wimbledon giving some respect to the programme it delayed. The power balance here is important, considering Top of the Pops is a BBC Four show and Wimbledon isn’t: it was nice of the show to quietly acknowledge this, and give a little more than “TOTP on next, bye.”

But here’s what really interests me: in a fun way, Sue Barker’s spiel above links together Wimbledon and Top of the Pops. And that’s my favourite thing about traditional television channels at their best: the links between everything. Where linear television shines is in presenting a schedule which works as a cohesive whole. Programmes shouldn’t just be siloed off – they should be linked together, and riffing off each other. It’s why decent continuity is such a vital part of television for me. I want to watch something that has, for want of a better word, been crafted.

One of my little obsessions is with radio jingles. And this is one reason why I love them: because they link things together. When the perfect jingle blends into the beginning of a song, it makes a radio station feel complete. Not a collection of disparate DJ patter and songs – but everything linked together, as part of a whole. Jingles aren’t the only part of the radio experience which does this – far from it – but they’re one element of many which can make radio… radio.

As the strains of Sporting Occasion faded yesterday on BBC Four, I found it hard to shake the idea that this is what linear television should be doing more of in 2016. It’s important to remember that a channel should be a service – not just a collection of programmes, but something bigger. That’s what linear television does best, and what it needs to keep doing to survive. In many ways, theme nights are the ultimate example of this, and are more appropriate for television in 2016 than in 1996 – which makes it all the more frustrating that they’ve somewhat fallen out of favour.

Just as radio can be more than just Spotify without the choice, linear television can be more than just a non-interactive iPlayer. Which doesn’t mean Spotify or iPlayer don’t have their place – far from it. But so do radio and linear television. Everything needs to play to its strengths. And with a few carefully chosen sentences last night, Wimbledon did just that.

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