OPINION: TV's dead horse sells us short

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster

TV execs are great ones for flogging an idea to death. The twice-weekly doses of Coronation Street were a highlight of my otherwise empty teenage years, but now we have four. Or is it five? I don't know because I switched off a long time ago. And one successful makeover property has opened the MDF door to a range of imitators, each drawing smaller and smaller audiences until the appeal is utterly lost.

The news that Sport Relief is gearing up for its second telethon in July 2004 (Third Sector, 20 August) made me wonder if we are not in danger of overdoing live broadcast events.

Comic Relief runs every two years and the long-running BBC Children in Need every November. Both have found a lasting place in the nation's hearts and wallets, not to mention a vital role in supporting thousands of charity projects. But do we really need a third, especially when it features many of the same stars as Comic Relief?

The question becomes even more relevant when you consider the ever-growing number of other charity-linked 'events' on TV, such as celebrity versions of popular game shows for charity.

There's the televised lottery draw, trying to boost its flagging fortunes by showing how the cash it generates goes to the good causes it supports.

And even those ailing makeover shows are now looking around for charity tie-ins to try and extend their homogenised formula.

Very few create a genuine sense of community spirit in pursuit of something important a la Children in Need/Comic Relief, but each chips away at TV's power to deliver on behalf of voluntary organisations. Look at the recent NOP Survey of Individual Giving (Third Sector, 20 August). It showed that the collection tin is still the most popular mechanic. The amount that TV can generate does, it would follow, have its limits. So rather than constantly subdividing the franchise by having too many appeals competing for the same pot of money, perhaps it is time for those who commission our daily viewing diet to show a little more imagination in channelling their commitment.

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards.

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