It’s just the same ol’, same ol’ on TV this new year

A gray expanse of mediocrity, boredom and complacency: This is how the new television season could be described. Notwithstanding some isolated errors, the Olympic Games proved to be a bright light in the darkness, a challenge that ERT state broadcasting rose to meet. But the overall post-Olympic television landscape, public and private, is little better than before the Games. At first glance, there is a sense of abundance. Television is teeming with informative, recreational and sport programs. Quality is provided by the parliamentary channel, Vouli, which screens documentaries and high-quality films. A more careful look, however, reveals that negative trends negate more hopeful ones. Classic television genres are showing a tendency to mutate, while programs of the same genre are becoming more and more alike. The only comfort to be had is that it could be worse: Appalling reality shows are thriving in Britain, beside which Greek ones are angelic in their innocence. Serials, reality shows slug it out for ratings The good news is that reality shows are not a sure-fire recipe for success. Though Sunday’s «Fame Story II» (on Antenna) still garners very high viewing figures, on weekdays reality shows face stiff competition from serials. «Ypopsyfios» (Candidate) on Alpha has passed almost unnoticed, while «Survivor II» (on Mega) has given countless recitals of sheer barbarism. Castaways are buried alive in sand, or imprisoned in cages under the hot sun as though they were wild animals. The fact that these mild forms of torture take place with the consent of the players makes them no less repulsive. In «Fame Story II,» the slogan «You can be a star» seems to be aimed not so much at the players but at the panel of judges of the Music Academy. «Shut up, you silly girl» (uttered by panel member Nikos Mouratidis – to a man) will likely be remembered in the history of Greek reality shows long after it’s been forgotten who first said it and to whom. There are 35 serials in the new season. This leaves us to hope that Greek directors and screenwriters will mobilize their talent and imagination to create rivals to reality TV. Year of the child This year is the year of the child. After last year’s success, «Leni» (Mega), which featured a charming little girl in the leading role, children have inundated Greek serials. But of the 13 families shown in Greek serials, 11 of them feature children growing up with only one parent, usually the mother. Dad might be in jail, or have admitted that he is gay, or may even be a former Polytechnic hero who has mutated into a minister. Though the parent apparently sacrifices herself for her child, in reality the children are extras, there to underline adult passions. In addition, this year, gay characters have multiplied. Caricatures rather than real people, they are a development which is more exploitative than liberating in nature. Serials are also opening up to multi-ethnicity, with love blossoming between Christians and Muslims, Greeks and Kurds. But the culture of The Other, with the exception of «Mi mou les adio» (Don’t Say Goodbye) is either wholly absent or represented by the tsifteteli belly dance, which is in fashion this year on TV. Good intentions and good elements can be found in the serials, but overall they leave much to be desired. A shining exception is «Ta paidia tis Niovis» (Niovi’s Children) by Costas Koutsomytis on NET. This show boasts good actors and directors, experienced scriptwriters, touches of humor and original issues; production techniques are more technologically and aesthetically skillful than in the recent past, but they haven’t come together to enchant and uplift the audience. Culture plays second fiddle to gossip To begin with a positive change: News broadcasts (with the exception of the cheerfully brainless Star) focus more on politics (especially Alpha) and deal more with daily life (especially Antenna and Mega). When opinion polls show that rising prices and unemployment preoccupy citizens more than nights on Myconos, for example, it is not in the channels’ commercial interests to stay out of tune with public sentiment. Though people’s problems and current affairs are often approached in a hastily improvised and spasmodic fashion (with verbal battles on split screens, for impressions’ sake), the general picture is, nevertheless, an improved one compared with the recent past. International political developments are still given little air time (with the exception of NET), while news from the cultural world is squeezed into the last three minutes of the broadcast or disappears altogether. Again with the exception of state-owned channels, culture is the poor relation. Chiefly represented by famous people, it is their personal lives as cosmopolitan stars and not their work that gets attention. As a kind of talking ornament, as witty guests on talk shows, artists are welcome, but culture itself is the disinherited child of private television. Actors are acceptable; theater is not. Eccentric and photogenic writers are accepted; the book is not. The mutant offspring of tired genres Two distinct trends in this year’s season are the mutation and replication of genres. Even Folkolos’s long-running serial «Lampsi» (Shine), which usually has a plot that combines mystery and melodrama, has adopted a song-and-dance routine with the addition to the cast of Kalomira (the winner of last season’s «Fame Story») playing the illegitimate Greek-American daughter of Yiangos Drakos. It’s a counterweight to the successful daily series «Vera sto dexi» (Ring on the Right Finger) on Mega. Morning shows, where we once depended on the triad of star signs, fashion and cooking, this year have been injected with strong doses of gossip. Thus, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., private television has been transformed into a vast gossip show. Pure gossip programs are fruitful and multiplying. While four years ago there was only one example of this kind, now there are four such shows on weekdays and two on Saturdays. On them, pure-blooded inanity coexists with malice – dubbed «social interest» – and initial hilarity soon changes to disgust. In this aphasic environment, New Age theories and metaphysics flourish, and even penetrate the so-called information zone. On after the minister is the palm reader. Until last year, popular psychology was in the ascendant; this year is the year of spoon-bending. It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. Televised stories of everyday madness is an endless wellspring of inspiration for satirical programs, which this year have been enriched by the inventive Al Jadiri News (Alpha) by Lakis Lazopoulos. At the same time, the enjoyable «Mitsi-Hosta» by Giorgos Mitsicostas and the often inspired «Ola 5» by Themis Anastasiadis compensate for a televisual bombardment of sonorous pomposity and unbearable silliness.