Tag Archives: BBC

'Grown Up Telly': Whither The BBC?

I’ve written before on this blog about my fondness for public radio, middle-aged though it may be.

And living as I have in the U.K. for three and a half years, I’ve grown particularly fond of BBC Radio and BBC Television – both of which I think of as gems of adulthood, not to be missed. (As a friend puts it, it’s where you go to watch “proper grown-up telly.” Amen.)

But, like everything, publicly funded broadcasting in the U.K. must adapt to both the forces of the market and to the digital age.

Today, I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about a recent, much-publicized Strategy Review of the BBC here in the UK and the philosophical debates it has opened up over the meaning and viability of public service broadcasting going forward.

Have a look…

Image: BBC Radio Leeds by TGIGreeny via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Throwing Away The Outline (In Writing And Life)

There’s a lot to be said for having an outline when you write.

It gives a structure to your story. It reminds you where you are when you wander off to embellish some minor – but important – point and then realize that you’ve wandered so far you have no idea where you started. Above all, it’s just reassuring:  it suggests that you may actually get to the end of whatever it is you’re writing.

I usually work from a sort of loose outline when I write. Occasionally, I don’t. I just sit down with a bunch of points I want to make and improvise my way towards a conclusion. Usually – about half way through that sort of writing – I figure out what I really wanted to say. And once in a while, I create a really detailed, formal outline of exactly how I’m going to proceed with a given piece.

I used this last strategy – to my own detriment – last week on a feature I’m writing for PoliticsDaily.com about the BBC (watch this space.) It’s a topic that’s obsessed me for as long as I’ve lived in the UK, and I’ve been dying to write about it for years. But I needed to wait until there was a news hook to have an excuse to write the article.

But when I finally sat down to write, I had so much material buzzing around my head – research…interviews…newsclips…my own experiences – that I was a bit overwhelmed. So I started outlining. And outlining. And outlining some more.

I thought that this would help me write the piece more quickly. But the truth was – when I actually put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys), I was so immersed in the subject matter that the points I wanted to make just flowed on their own. So I ended up tossing my outline aside and just running with it. I let the piece “write itself” as it were, rather than trying so hard to control it.

And guess what? It came out much more quickly. And I realized after a few days that I probably could have finished the whole thing much sooner if I’d just given into the creative process rather than obsessively trying to outline my way through it.

This is true in life as well. You see, I’m a planner. (Some might – ahem – say I plan too much. Darling? Is that you?) I tend to approach things that make me stressed (read: just about everything) by scheduling:  carefully planning out my time,  putting dates in the calendar, making endless to-do lists. But we all know that life is best lived in the moment, not through an outline.

I’m trying to keep this in mind as I gear up for my upcoming move which will occupy a lot of psychological real estate in my head over the next six or seven weeks. As I near the move date, my instinct will be to immerse myself in the boxes and the movers and the change-of-address forms. And, sure, those things need to happen.

But what I should really focus on is how happy I am that we are moving to a bigger space, with really nice views, right next to a gigantic park, where my kids can play football (soccer) and run around. And I can take long walks and chill. And *that’s* what this move is about.

Watch this space.

Image: Outlining by dmscvan via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons You Should Watch The BBC

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Awhile back, I posted on five reasons you should listen to BBC Radio. Today I’d like to complement that post with some thoughts on why you should also watch BBC television:

1. It has the most amazing mini-series. Back when my husband and I first met, I knew that we were well-suited to one another when we both dove in with two feet to watch the six part BBC mini-series Reckless, about a young man who falls for an older (married) woman. A few years later, we watched State of Play, a contemporary thriller about a political-media scandal (later re-made into a less satisfactory feature film set in America.) Just this past weekend, we finished the trilogy House of Cards, a political drama about Westminster intrigue set in post-Thatcher England. All three series combine superb acting, fine writing and a willingness to explore the messy interface between love and power. Fabulous.

2. It has the most amazing documentaries. I’ve got a 9-year-old son, which means that prying him away from violent computer games is no mean feat. But I can’t tell you how many spellbinding afternoons we’ve spent this year watching the most compelling documentaries about science and nature on the BBC I-player. I’m particularly taken with the series How Earth Made Us. Watch this one entitled Deep Earth to learn why civilizations sprung up along fault lines. Incredible.

3. The presenters look like us. Despite charges of ageism and sexism, the vast majority of the people presenting and reporting the news on the BBC just aren’t all that attractive, at least by American broadcast standards. Rather, they look like – gasp – normal people. At first, I found this shocking and vaguely disconcerting. (What’s up with that guy’s teeth? How can she possibly go on air in that top?) But now that I’ve gotten used to it, I find it quite refreshing. The people who report the news look a lot like the people they’re reporting on. How…appropriate.

4. It Employs Jonathan Ross. At least for now. If you’re *so* over the late night television wars in the United States, I’d urge you to tune in to this weekend staple over here in the UK: Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Yeah, he looks a bit like Leno and – at first glance – acts a bit like him, with his bumptious grin and easy way with the ladies. But make no mistake. Ross is clever and funny and seems to really enjoy what he’s doing. (Even if he occasionally steps over the line.) I’ve never watched late night TV with any regularity in my life until now. I will sorely miss him when he goes.

5. It created The Office. Many Americans don’t realize this, but NBC’s hit comedy, The Office, is actually based on a BBC television show by the same name. (As Ricky Gervais – its star and co-creator – was quick to remind us at The Golden Globes recently. Read here for a terrific comparison of the two.) I love the American version of The Office. But there’s nothing quite like the mixture of humor, pathos and off-beat romance that defined the original series – it’s almost unbearable to watch at times. And Thank Goodness.

*****

For those who are interested, I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com today talking about efforts to improve the enfranchisement of overseas American voters.

Image: Empire Awards 2008 by Claire_h via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons You Should Listen To The BBC

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the many pleasures of living in the U.K. is that I have unlimited access to BBC Radio. I remember back when I lived in the States – and worked at Chicago Public Radio – I used to feel a bit put off when BBC programming came on. It felt too distant, too proper and – let’s face it – too mature.

I don’t feel that way anymore. I can’t get enough of BBC radio, and here are five reasons you should be listening too:

1. It’s combative. Much as I love National Public Radio in the U.S., NPR news programs can feel a bit…polite. Perhaps because the network is trying really hard to fight the perception that has a liberal bias, the talk show hosts go out of their way to be deferential and even-handed. Not here. Sure, the BBC tilts Left, but the “presenters” (as they’re called) are just as rough on Gordon Brown as they are on David Cameron. Have a listen to Radio Four’s James Naughtie interviewing just about anyone and ask yourself if you’ve ever heard anything like it on Morning Edition. It’s really refreshing to hear journalists who aren’t afraid to take the gloves off, without devolving into shrill partisanship.

2. It’s broad. The range of programming offered is – frankly – amazing. Just the other day, I was listening to some in-depth analysis of the latest bank restructuring over here. Next up? A retrospective on Somerset Maugham. I’m not kidding. And it’s like that all week long. One of my favorite programs is something called Desert Island Discs, where some famous person is interviewed about the eight pieces of music they’d bring with them if they were stuck on a desert island. What a concept!

3. It’s Informative. I think one of the sticking points for US listeners is that the BBC reports on such a broad range of topics geographically. This is true of domestic programming (Radio 4) and especially true of the BBC World Service. Americans just aren’t used to listening to *that much* foreign news. But once you get used to hearing about the latest governance debacle in Zimbabwe, it’s incredibly eye-opening and informative. (And, BTW, they do a great job with American coverage, in particular.)

4. It’s Quirky. Because – relative to NPR, at least – the BBC is incredibly well-funded, it can afford to do all sorts of odd, quirky programming alongside its flagship news shows. So, for example, radio plays are hugely popular over here. When I first moved to London, I found myself switching off The Archers (the longest running and most popular of these) whenever it came on. Now, three years later, I’m oddly drawn into this ongoing saga about families in the Midlands and have developed a sort of affection towards it.

5. It’s on all night! At least if you live in America, you can often hear top-drawer BBC programming in the middle of the night. And since we’re all insomniacs anyway, what’s there to lose? Have a listen…and see for yourself.

Image: Radio Daze by Ian Hayhurst via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Is Public Radio Too Middle Aged?

Public radio has hit hard times in the United States. According to recent accounts in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, National Public Radio is having budgetary problems resulting in show cancellations as well as tensions with its member stations over fundraising.

I worked at Chicago Public Radio for four years, so part of my interest in these developments is purely personal. But I wanted to talk about it here because it’s also the case that listening to public radio – in America, at least – is and always has been a much “older thing” to do. No one I know in the States began listening (or much less contributing money) to public radio until they were well into their thirties. I distinctly remember the first time that I began to identify with a local station – WAMU in Washington, DC. I was thirty-four.

I’m not sure why listening to public radio has become synonymous with maturity, exactly. It could be the long form interviews…the more in-depth news analysis…the sometimes esoteric programming…or simply the age of the average guest/host that somehow, combined, demand a longer attention span. The sort that comes with age.

There’s certainly been a lot of handwringing within the public radio world over how to reach a younger demographic. Chicago Public Radio responded with something called Vocalo. Others may remember the short-lived Bryant Park Project which was meant to cultivate a younger, more diverse NPR audience. (A friend of mine who’s an economist once appeared on a BPP segment via telephone. As she waited for her interview to begin, she listened to the hosts talk with some hip, young guy about his “podcamp” that was spreading like wildfire. Then, when they segued to her story, they literally said: “So, there’s something going on in DC about health insurance programs. No, don’t reach for the ‘off ‘ button on your Ipod! This is actually interesting…” Ouch.).

I don’t know how NPR is going to square this circle. Apparently, listeners are at an all time high, but they are tuning in for shorter and shorter periods of time. We here in Great Britain face our own travails with the BBC (more on that some other time), but at least I don’t have to worry that my beloved (lengthy, overly-intellectual and decidedly middle-aged) programming will end any time soon. Phew.

In the meantime, I think I’ll just tune out of this whole dilemma and go back to that great Aldous Huxley retrospective I was just listening to on Radio Four…

*****

If you are a public radio junkie, by all means visit a new website created by two of my former Chicago Public Radio colleagues –  Radiopublic – where you can listen to and talk about your favorite shows, as well as catch up on what’s going on inside the industry.

Image: National Public Radio Headquarters by SavetheDave via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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