Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Cult Of... The Cult Of

Watching "The Cult Of... Poldark" on Sunday, it finally crystallised exactly what I don't like about BBC4's "The Cult Of..." series: it's that they could go in two very strong directions, but instead go in neither. They could either be a good in-depth history of the programme involved, discussing their genesis, their production, the televisual context which meant a programme like that became a hit, etc., but they don't: the "Poldark" episode mentioned a couple of times that Winston Graham (author of the original Poldark novels) complained initially about the series but later became reconciled, but never actually explained what he complained about, nor why he changed his mind (both of which are interesting stories, easily available in the author's memoir "Poldark's Cornwall").

Likewise (and perhaps more controversially), with a name like "The Cult Of..." they could do a series on reactions to programmes, why they come about and what appeals to people about some programmes, and why unexpected phenomena sometimes occur (why does Blake's 7, a programme with no explicit sex scenes and almost no inexplicit ones, have a thriving erotic-fanfic subculture attached to it? Why is Between the Lines popular in Canada and Howard's Way in Australia, but the reverse isn't true? Why are there lots of Survivors fans and yet almost nothing in the way of an organised fandom? Etc). But again, the series barely touches on what makes the programmes popular, and when it does it's usually in a fairly denigrating way: Kate O'Mara, interviewed on "The Cult of... The Brothers" the other week, said that the programme was popular because there was nothing better to do on Sunday nights in the 1970s, and the Poldark episode showed us a group of Poldark Appreciation Society members without actually interviewing any of them to find out what it is about the programme that inspires them to meet in full period dress.

The world is crying out for a good documentary series on cult television in all its various and sundry permutations: unfortunately, this isn't it.