First off, without more time and effort than I was willing to expend figuring it out I found television in London to be as difficult to get a handle on as I had been told it would be, with several BBCs and all, and so much American television past and present mixed in with so many current British offerings. Five days of channel surfing whenever I was in our rented flat did little to develop any significant familiarity with how it all worked. Thank goodness for the British press, from its newspapers to its tabloids and especially its weekly television magazines prominently displayed on newsstands and in small markets wherever we went. The daily and weekly grids published in them provided much needed guidance, even if little of what I was doing really sank in.
The big television news while I was there was the debut of a new limited series on BBC 1 titled “Poldark” -- a remake of the classic historical drama from the Seventies that was apparently all the rage 40 years ago at the time of its debut. The new “Poldark” premiered on Sunday, March 8, and overnight its leading man, Aidan Turner (in image at top), became a media sensation.
That weekend and in the days that followed, as the press breathlessly reported on the instant success of the show, there was no avoiding images of Turner on tabloids and magazines everywhere. Prior to “Poldark” his biggest claim to fame was the role of John the conflicted vampire on BBC3’s “Being Human.” (It was seen here on BBC America. An American version ran for four seasons on Syfy.) Turner also played Kili in the recent “Hobbit” feature film trilogy. He wasn’t exactly a giant star, but that seemed to change as of March 9. It was exciting to see, especially because from what little I saw of “Poldark” it seemed that he deserved the acclaim.
Muddling through so many other shows and channels without really knowing what I was doing I was struck by the frank language and casual nudity that seemed to come and go in various series that I sampled, especially MTV’s “Geordie Shore” (pictured above), the UK version of our own “Jersey Shore” that made the latter seem very tame by comparison. I couldn’t help but wonder if an uncensored, adults-only version of “Jersey Shore” or CMT’s “Party Down South” would be as popular here as the unapologetic “Geordie” is there.
I found such publications as TV Times and TV Choice, among others, to be pleasant diversions at the least and helpful guides at best. Perhaps a steady diet of them wouldn’t hold up, but on a limited basis they satisfied this television enthusiast. They were very informative and a lot of fun to read.
I can say the same about the newspapers I purchased while there, especially the Sunday editions, which I found myself perusing from cover to cover. I was so impressed by the way The Times and The Daily Mail, to name two, drew me in and propelled me through them from front to back. The layouts and color photos throughout were eye-catching, and best of all they were filled with columns by genuine columnists who wrote in an entertaining fashion about a wide variety of subjects.
Another thing I noticed about print publications in general and newspapers in particular was that everywhere I went, especially coffee shops and the underground, people were reading them (especially the free paper Metro)! There were plenty of people reading on their smartphones, but newsprint was always in view. It seemed to me that, in Britain, traditional media and digital media had found a way to happily co-exist.
Again, London was all new to me, so I was reluctant to form any firm conclusions about what I had seen. But when I returned home I immediately e-mailed media master Brian Jacobs, whose wise and witty columns from the UK appear every week in The Cog Blog on MediaBizBloggers, and asked for his opinion about the popularity of traditional print in London. He reminded me of a column that had appeared on MediaBizBloggers exactly one year ago this week titled The Movement for Slow Media, which addressed many of the observations I made last month.
In his response to me Brian said the following: “You make an interesting point. First, we have had a very successful national newspaper market here for centuries. This is nothing to do with our national characteristics and all to do with the fact that back in the old days newspapers could be distributed literally throughout the country overnight via the railways. Britain is pretty small! So we are by habit and upbringing a nation of newspaper readers. Somewhere around 75% of people read a paper. Papers here are far more vibrant, as you say, than papers in the US (and I lived for a bit in Chicago). Even now, with circulations dropping the physical papers are still popular. In fact I suspect there will always be a hard core of users of physical papers and magazines.”
For what it’s worth my god-daughter, former Media Village teen reporter Maya Motavalli, laughed at my reliance on print publications to navigate British television and was generally perplexed by my enjoyment of them. At almost 21 years of age she has never purchased a newspaper anywhere and could probably count on her fingers and toes the number of paper magazines she has bought. She is currently spending a semester in London. I wonder if her attitude about traditional print will change during her time there. If not, it’s her loss.
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