MEDIA: It’s about time the BBC rediscovered the arts

On the day that the Cezanne exhibition opened at the Tate, I found myself sitting on the sofa at a loose end late at night. What I really wanted to watch on TV was a live discussion of the show by critics. I turned to the TV listings only to discover that at 11.15pm, in the very spot that the Late Show occupied this time last year, BBC 2 was screening snooker. Snooker! It seemed a travesty.

On the day that the Cezanne exhibition opened at the Tate, I found

myself sitting on the sofa at a loose end late at night. What I really

wanted to watch on TV was a live discussion of the show by critics. I

turned to the TV listings only to discover that at 11.15pm, in the very

spot that the Late Show occupied this time last year, BBC 2 was

screening snooker. Snooker! It seemed a travesty.



But does this not epitomise the cultural desert which late-night

television has become since the programme was abolished late last year?

It is true that BBC 2 placed its unhappy revival of The Brains Trust at

11.15pm. But my point is a larger one: viewers have lost a nightly slot,

dedicated to contemporary cultural and media events, where informed

people could hold live discussions and stimulate a dialogue.



The Royal Opera House has had a PR disaster. Newspapers are completely

redesigned.



Simon Rattle leaves the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and first

nights come and go. The Late Show was axed, apparently for ‘super

serving’ the metropolitan middle classes. But what I remember at the

time was former Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell nagging the BBC about

justifying the licence fee by ensuring its programmes were watched by

the broad mass of people. Judged by this depressing yardstick, the Late

Show seemed an indulgence. What dismays me is that, as 1996 gets well

into its stride, nothing has sprung up to fully take its place. The BBC

2 tradition of providing a constant, up-to-the-minute dialogue on modern

culture has been all but abandoned. Radio, to some extent, has been

consigned to the role, but is a poor medium for the visual arts, for

showing exhibitions, dance, film and some theatre.



This state of affairs is not good enough. Before the Late Show,

Newsnight, which preceded it, had regular arts reports but was then

moulded into an almost exclusively political programme. If the BBC

really can’t find the money or the justification for recreating the Late

Show (and with all the Lottery money around it should be keeping an

eagle eye on the subsidised arts at the very least) then it must adjust

other programmes to fill the vacuum.



The most obvious ploy would be to extend Newsnight, with a further ten

or 15 minutes Late Review devoted to live arts/media coverage. The slot

will need to find or reassemble some of the presenters/producers who

used to specialise in fast-response programmes. What is absolutely not

needed is more coverage sprinkled around the schedule. We’re busy, give

us a ghetto.



Even better, this simple change could be organised within weeks. In time

for an assessment of Cezanne in London - as the exhibition closes in

April.



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