Not only have I watched television all my life, but I also work on television and I enjoy doing it. I hope I’ll never have to work as a crime reporter or in testimonial programmes such as El diario de Patricia, but apart from that I’m open to anything. I like reality shows and cuore programmes. However, unlike many of my colleagues, I’m not particularly interested in defending the medium. Behind many TV Talibans underlies an activist frivolity that annoys me. To me, the fact that some people don’t like watching us or have no TV set at home is totally cool. What is surprising and sad is that journalists, writers and intellectuals in general still despise mass media. Television is a mirror of what we are, often distorted, but a mirror after all. Giving your back to it is despising reality because you don’t like it, and what an intellectual should do is analysing and understanding reality, not despising it.
In the 21st century, our interest for popular culture shouldn’t be limited only to a certain type of cinema or a certain type of pop music. Let’s stop talking about Scorsese, The Wire or Lou Reed’s legacy. Let’s go down to the streets and get our shoes dirty. In Spain, there’s been an absolute divorce between high and low art for years. Either you live on one side of the wall or the other. If you want to be a serious thinker, don’t talk about En tu casa o en la mía. I’m convinced that, in order to become influential and relevant, the new century intellectual should have a much less aristocratic attitude, and that includes watching TV, adverts, YouTube and social networks with a lot less prejudices. Living in an internal exile is a very valid option for anyone as long as they don’t have a public opinion platform. It’s funny that many of these thinkers that hate mass media consider themselves left wing: an elitist left wing, a pure contradiction.
When I watch TV by myself, and this is almost always the case because I live alone, I don’t hop between channels. I choose a programme, the one I’m interested in, and I stay there. Channel hopping, in my opinion, is a social activity and should include at least a minimum of two people. If you’re going to enjoy a session of random TV, it’s better having someone at your side to comment on it. During the almost ten years I shared a flat, I remember many evenings of laughs watching anything and saying all sorts of nonsense. This medium enables you to sharpen your wits by analysing anything that appears in front of you. But I’ve been asked to undergo the channel-hopping experience on my own, so here I am on the sofa, laptop on my lap, and pressing the remote’s On button. Wednesday, December 9th, 2015, 9:30 PM. Here I go:
1) El intermedio (La Sexta): An absolutely unique case. Almost ten years old (it premiered on March 30th, 2006), this liberal news show not only displays no signs of exhaustion, but also seems as witty as on day one and, on top of it, its ratings are higher than ever. As their seasons went by, El Gran Wyoming, Miguel Sánchez Romero (the director) and the amazing team of script-writers have witnessed the collapse of left wing media in Spain: the Público newspaper stopped being published on paper, the banks got the control of El País, PRISA had to sell Cuatro to Mediaset, and the PP placed their people on TVE news during their last term in office. So now that it’s really difficult to escape from information homogeneity they know they are indispensable and have become even stronger. Tonight they start talking about the defeat of chavismo in Venezuela and of the rise of the radical right wing in France and the US. But they soon move on to the Spanish elections and to the debate between Pedro Sánchez, Albert Rivera, Pablo Iglesias and Soraya Saénz de Santamaría, held two days earlier. Some of the sketches are brilliant, like the one showing the vice-president as a puppet being moved by two hands placed on the ceiling of the set. They’re superb, as usual.
2) Vice (Discovery Max): Today, TDT premieres the news report programme that Vice has in HBO. Vice started as a magazine in the nineties and today is a multimedia company devoted to updating the old “new journalism”, something like a 21st century Rolling Stone magazine. The first piece, Diplomacia en la cancha, is excellent. A reporter of US Vice travels to North Korea with Dennis Rodman and three Harlem Globetrotters, who are going to play against the country’s national team. The local authorities prepare an excursion for them to see how well they live over there, but the reporter soon finds out that everything is like a monumental set, full of actors. Something like what happens to Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, but in real life. On the second piece, the same reporter travels to the Chinese ghost towns which appeared as a consequence of the country’s last real estate boom: dozens of practically empty skyscrapers that would turn Paco El Pocero’s town in Seseña into a little village. To sum it up: journalism with a first-person narrator who gives his opinion about what he sees and tells the camera how he feels, and two topics never seen on Spanish media. It’s difficult to resist to such an audiovisual candy.
3) Adán y Eva (Cuatro): I love dating programmes, in particular those of trospid humour (¿Quién quiere casarse con mi hijo?, Un príncipe para…). Trospidism is a real find (starting by the name) and the funny way in which it portrays characters and takes advantage of situations through editing and pop music is a discovery that people still love, at least for the moment. I’m convinced that these programmes are going to become part of the sentimental education of many generations. But, trospids aside, I never get tired of watching heterosexual and gay mating rituals in any format, including reality shows (Gran Hermano, Gandía Shore). The problem I have with Adán y Eva is that since it has auto-conclusive episodes, there’s not enough time to get to know the characters in depth. Each episode is recorded in only three days and that’s not enough to dwell on their character and their relationships or to become fond of them. Besides, it should include more humour, be it trospid or not. Today, two twenty-somethings fight over a young, rich and hot nightclub impresario. One of the two girls, a bit of a boor, shows the other her nails, pure chav style, while he enjoys the fight. It could work, but there’s something missing. If a few days ago I watched the Steisy final of Mujeres, hombres y viceversa with the same enthusiasm with which some people watch Champion League matches it was because Steisy had been on the programme for a year and I felt as if she was part of my family. In fact, I know Steisy better than some of my relatives. So her choice of boyfriend MATTERED TO ME (I was so disappointed when she discarded Leo, my favourite!). I’m not fond of these two and I’m not going to see them ever again, so I don’t care too much about what happens to them. In spite of that, I still want to know who ends up getting the guy.
4) En tu casa o en la mía (La 1): The interview show of Bertín Osborne, a genuine representative of old school Spanish right wing. Tonight he has invited to his house the members of the Masterchef jury to do endogenic promotion for the programme of the same channel, so the tone is even more sycophantic and complacent than usual. It’s a pity I didn’t get to analyse the visits of Rajoy or Pedro Sánchez, because those were very rich when it comes to subtext. The right question about this successful programme would be: what kind of audience watches this show so that both the president and the leader of the opposition were dying to appear on it? What voter profile were they trying to win over by chatting away with Bertín? The answer is, plain and simple, the Spain we don’t like: that stale, catholic, prudish Spain, allergic to change and generally from provinces, where (very importantly) votes are still more valuable than in the big cities. The show? Well, it is what it is. We can’t expect Bertín to be a sharp interviewer because he represents all those conservative viewers that want things to remain as they are. En tu casa o en la mía is the TV equivalent of ¡Hola!, the magazine, a great defendant of the statu quo which even defended Urdangarín in the midst of the Noos case scandal. I’m not surprised that something like this show has popped up during Rajoy’s term: by including it on public TV, what the PP has done is keeping its followers happy. In favour of Bertín I have to say that I like him very much as host. So many years playing the seducer (a second-rate one, maybe, but he must have done his deal of fucking, and that’s what it’s all about) has given him the skill to make his guests feel relaxed and at ease. An important detail: he follows Truman Capote’s interviewing tactics, telling his own intimate details so as to get the other to feel compelled to confess his/her own. Bertín might not know he’s copying Capote, but this has even more merit: both, through different means, reached the same conclusion.
5) El desencanto (La 2): Excellent! One of the best films in Spanish history, here and now! The sleeping of reason produces monsters and while Franco’s catholic and provincial Spain was asleep it produced El desencanto. Jaime Chávarri’s legendary documentary about the Panero family after the death of the castrating patriarch, with a mother finally liberated at the dawn of her life and three psychologically broken, but also brutally sincere and clear-headed, children. Four fascinating characters committed to a shameless emotional striptease. As soon as I turn to La 2, the first thing I see is Michi pronouncing his immortal words: “All that I know about the past, the future and, above all, the present of the Panero family is that it represents the most blatant squalor I’ve ever seen in my life. They are all a bunch of fools, from the aunts to the famous great grandfathers to whomever, you name them”. I don’t know if the person who scheduled the film has realised this, but it’s like the reverse of the Bertín Osborne show: if the singer is the pleasant face of that old-fashioned and stale Spain, El desencanto is its dark side. I adore and reverence this classic that still manages to fascinate me, but I don’t want to watch it in the middle of this channel-hopping tour. You need to watch it on the trot, from beginning to end, and let it macerate on your head: El desencanto, and nothing else.
6) Top Chef (Antena 3): I used to work on Top Chef! It was during the summer of 2013, at the first season’s editing stage. Then, blimey, they didn’t call me for the second one, or for the third one… But I bear no grudges (well, maybe I do a little). I think it’s very entertaining, and it has the advantage of being a format that was designed and thought-about to the last detail. It would work equally well even if Alberto Chicote wasn’t the presenter, because it’s one of those shows that do not hook you because of the presenter’s charisma, but for its dynamics and the difficulty of the things the contestants are asked to do. Today it’s this season’s semi-finals. To make it even more spectacular, on the second of the three blocks, the contestants jump on board of a train and cook inside a wagon while in another one several chefs that sum fifteen Michelin stars are waiting to savour their dishes. Why a train? I thing I can guess it: for its speed. All of us working in this medium are obsessed by not letting the rhythm slow down. And that train seems to grant urgency to the show it otherwise wouldn’t have on the set. But if Top Chef is addictive it’s also because the contestants have been in the programme for weeks and, under the apparent good feelings, you can guess their conflicts and strategies. Right the opposite of Adán y Eva: here the characters are explored in depth.
7) Madrid en la mirada (La Otra): The news reports show from Telemadrid’s second channel deals tonight with the changes in relationships that took place during the seventies and eighties. There are archival images of the times, pictures of modern types from la Movida, scenes from films such as ¿Qué hace una chica como tú en un sitio como éste? and a commercial with Carmen Maura, sexy style, surrounded by hot guys wearing swimming slips. Besides, people from Madrid such as Elvira Lindo, musicians Jaime Urrutia (Gabinete Caligari), Álvaro Urquijo (Los Secretos) and Antonio Carmona (Ketama), or Juan Luis Cano, half of humour duo Gomaespuma, remember the arrival of the female contraceptive pill, the opening of the first sex shop in the city, the passing of the divorce law, homosexual liberation, Chueca’s metamorphosis or the apparition of AIDS. Both the editing and the voice over give it a quite conventional air, but the report ends up being a reminder of how mass media influence people’s biographies. They talk about women hiding from their husbands the fact that they’d gone to see 9 1/2 Weeks or Emmanuelle, that the success of The Blue Lagoon started the trend of dating in Hawaiian bars and drinking exotic beverages and how a bed commercial made Lorenzo Lamas a sex symbol. These things might not seem very transcendental, but are good to portray a time and a place. I’m sure when we look back to this decade we will also talk about some of the things we see on TV today.
Conclusion: without having to resort to the many (deservedly) successful foreign series, just by sticking to the always criticised local productions of our channels, one can spend three hours and be reasonably entertained. And I insist: not watching the telly is like saying that there are many things about the time and country you live in you don’t want to know. Television is nourishing.