June 06, 2020
As the rush of nostalgia subsides and television enters a new, more complicated era, how much should art imitate life?
‘The country will need Strictly!’: what will TV look like after coronavirus?
On the face of it, the two early TV hits of lockdown didn’t have much in common. There was Netflix’s Tiger King, taking us on a bizarre journey into the dark underbelly of American big cat breeding. And there was ITV’s Quiz, an entertaining dramatisation of a small-screen oddity from our recent past. Perhaps all they shared was how little they had to say about our current situation. They hit a sweet spot of cultural nostalgia and detachment from reality. Both were too singular in terms of content to have much wider resonance, and, as we adjusted to a scary and unfamiliar new paradigm, that was just the ticket.
There’s an odd moment in Quiz when, at the height of what’s essentially a fantastically trivial tale about possible cheating on a TV gameshow, 9/11 happens. To anyone watching the drama as the Covid-19 death toll mounted, this felt jarringly familiar. Here was real life, poking its nose in where it wasn’t wanted. Couldn’t we even have an hour’s worth of respite from terrifying global events? Apparently not. And this implied a question. The practical challenges presented to the television industry by the Covid-19 pandemic are self-evident. But what about the creative, emotional challenges? What kind of TV will viewers want once the cameras start rolling again?
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