Monday, January 30, 2012

Who is Nat Geo, and why is he doing these awful things to me?

I thought getting a satellite TV hookup in my new apartment was going to be a big enhancement to my life.

And it is... up to a point.

But I suppose my expectations were geared towards what regular TV was like when I was growing up in the '70s and '80s.  My experience of satellite channels - in Asia, especially - has been limited to watching sports in bars now and then; or occasional stays in hotels, where I would only ever watch the BBC World Service or a film channel.

So, I'd been hoping for great things from the History Channel, The Discovery Channel, The National Geographic Channel.

I find I don't in fact have the first of those two. But, judging from how BAD National Geographic is, that's probably a blessed relief.

I suppose there are two factors at play here. One is the limited amount of available programming, which prompts the schedulers to spin out programmes which last only 30 minutes or less to a full hour. The other, perhaps, is the expected target demographic of - in Asia - primarily hotel guests, who are likely to watch only in short bursts and/or channel hop a lot.

I sympathise with the difficulties, I do. But the result is that the channel is almost unwatchable, unless you have both ADHD and a goldfish memory. Every programme you watch is interrupted every five minutes or so to show you five minutes or more of promotional clips.

It wouldn't be so bad if the programme breaks were a just a little less frequent. It wouldn't be so bad if they included some commercials - but Nat Geo don't do commercials much: only for its sponsors/partners, and the WWF. It wouldn't be so bad if there were some variety.  But, because of the limited amount of programming, there's a limited amount of promos: so, you get the same promos for the same shows coming up over and over and over again - sometimes repeated even within the same break!

And the thing that bugs the crap out of me the most is that a good 25% or 30% of the promos are for the programme you're actually trying to watch: yes, they are taunting you by saying, "THIS is what's going to happen next, if you can bear to sit through another 5 or 10 minutes of this promo garbage."

Ah, no, the thing that really bugs the crap out of me is the style of these promos: the rapid cutting and tricksy editing (poor old Cesar Millan probably receives death threats as a result of the nauseating scratch-mix music videos NG makes to plug his Dog Whisperer show), and the wild, jokey over-enthusiasm of the voiceovers.

Once in a while, there is something I really want to watch on the NG channel. On Monday evenings, they're currently showing a ragbag of World War II documentaries (History Channel stuff, you'd think - I don't know how it comes to be airing on National Geographic): mixed quality, but mostly quite decent, mostly stuff I haven't seen before. But, for maybe 80 minutes of documentary - tonight, about the Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima attacks - I've had to suffer 40 minutes of PROMO HELL, much of it for this very programming strand, 'Apocalypse World War II'.... which, I'm told (again and again and again and again) by the portentous voiceover guy (it might even be this guy: it does have the classic, self-consciously over-the-top style of a trailer for a Hollywood action picture), was "filmed by people who were actually there." What, as opposed to robot cameramen or satellites?? Is there now such a well-established genre of contemporary documentaries derived entirely from closed-circuit security camera footage that the involvement of on-the-spot cameramen has become something noteworthy, something we need to be specially reminded of?

No, it's just that the scriptwriting is every bit as CRAP as the voiceovers and the editing and the scheduling.  (And the sound engineering - Jeez, the levels are all over the place; the charity ad for the WWF's Coral Triangle fund is TWICE as loud as most everything else, battering the eardrums, rattling the windows, annoying the neighbours.)

It's like a How Not To demonstration of how to screw up a television channel. And yet the National Geographic Channel is apparently very successful; so, they must at some level "know what they're doing"? The audience today actually tolerates, or even responds positively to this kind of SHIT???  I despair of the modern world.


John said...

Can you get any UK channels out there? British TV (and by that I mean mostly the first 15 or so Freeview channels) seems to be the only television worth watching in almost the entire world these days, it's certainly no where near as excruciating as you describe Nat Geo is. In fact I'm a huge TV fan, I love it.
ITV has gone down the pan as far as I'm concerned (with the exception of some of its dramas), I used to hop over to it in times gone by. Channel 4 and their sub-channels are still going strong and even five (did you leave Britain before it launched?) show the occasional thing worth a look. The BBC is of course the best broadcasting corporation in the world bar none (no one will convince me otherwise) but that goes without saying.
Let's see, what else is there? Well it's mostly repeat channels which are OK now and then I guess and there's certainly a lot of dross to be found but it could be a lot worse (US terrestrial I'm looking at you.)

Froog said...

When did Channel 5 start? Wasn't that back at the end of the '90s? I've seen a fair bit of it - rather more than I would expect to have caught on my infrequent visits home. I recall they did a good job of strategic bidding for certain things - the odd film or American series or sports event they'd poach from the bigger channels. Didn't they get 'Lost'? Or am I just imagining it? (I never became a fan of that; but it was a big hit.)

I wonder if Nat Geo is this bad all around the world, or if it's just the Asia version? And when did this happen? I expected some corruption of quality standards to pander to the modern low-attention-span viewer, but I was surprised to find that it is SO bitty now (and has such comparatively little national history programming; it's more of a general documentary channel now).

JES said...

We get and occasionally watch NatGeo but it's evidently not the SAME NatGeo; I don't think I've encountered all that promotional interruption.

When we leave The Pooch at home, we leave the TV on because (as The Missus says) it keeps her company. It seemed obvious to me that the best channel to leave it on was NatGeo -- all the wildlife, y'know, calling to her wolfish DNA (although it's buried in a MicroYorkie body). But The Missus said no, because of all the films of predators bringing down other animals, generally smaller ones. "It upsets her," she said. They must be communicating on that mysterious double-X chromosome frequency.

Froog said...

So, what is The Pooch's viewing? Not the History Channel? All those Nazi documentaries are so upsetting. And Discovery Channel has quite a lot of that predator-and-prey stuff, doesn't it?

I suspect China's propaganda export, CCTV International, would be suitably non-inflammatory for her... not to say soporific.