Sunday, February 22, 2009

The dearth of documentaries

When I was a child, documentaries were anathema, getting in the way of the fun stuff of tv. There seemed to be a lot of them.

Now that I'm too old to have time to watch tv, the death knell seems to already have been sounded for documentaries. There are a few, scattered here and there, but the only consistency I can find is the mixed bag that both SBS and ABC run on Sunday nights. Even then, I will not usually have the opportunity to watch, since their timing coincides with the maelstrom of running the kids through the processes of getting them to bed.

By documentary, I seem to be referring to history and science. On reflection. The kids are quite happy with nature programmes, and I'm happy when they learn something of evolution from that, which they do.

Australian regulations mandate a certain number of hours per week to be devoted to "non-fiction" type programming. But that has traditionally allowed the commercial channels to indulge in little more than tabloid journalism. And the market seems to have lurched decidedly towards the tabloid end in more recent times. This became epitomised by the uber-tabloid reality tv programming, which is in vogue not least because it is so cheap to produce. And which, while they may for some provide an able source of material for certain sociological analysis, are not really the stuff of great insight.

This is all quite a pity, as I've found the new technologies are a marvellous way to supplement broadcast documentaries: whenever the narrative veers on a tangent, or moves on while leaving potent questions unanswered, I can immediately explore the topic further on the web.

Unfortunately, the best chance I get for decent documentary tv these days is via videos at the local library.

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