Has anyone else noticed the inefficiency of some currently-popular styles of documentary as a knowledge transfer mechanism? The programmes I am talking about are those which assume that anyone watching may well have joined half way through and, furthermore, has the attention span of a goldfish. Therefore, they recap the entire program so far at the start of each segment – and, if the program was originally segmented for American TV with its greater advertising density, can mean even more often for us Brits.
This continuous repetition and recap, as well as being entirely tedious for those of us capable of storing information for longer than it takes to go to the toilet, means that each segment has minimal new content. I’ve seen documentaries an hour long that I could have cut down to ten minutes without losing anything substantial. Am I alone in feeling this?
No, you’re spot on. Also, there’s a lot more of the “next week” and “previously” crap, which is somewhat tedious if you’re capable of storing information for a week or more.
The worst documentary I’ve seen in this regard is The Elegant Universe, a show on string theory that originally aired on PBS in three segments, one per week. I guess that meant they had to repeat a lot of stuff each time, since people could’ve easily missed the first show, but it got really annoying by the third segment to be hearing the same things over and over again. It’s a neat documentary, but it’s just too repetitive for me to want to see it again.
Not to mention that places like the History Channel are obsessed with a handful of topics, and will repeat them to death: WWII, Civil War, The Da Vinci Code. Discovery, meanwhile, will either report on junk science or pimping cars.
“The Elegant Universe” is OK in that you don’t have commercial break repetition (PBS, etc), and most of the repitition that I noticed was at the beginning and not terribly bad.
As to the History Channel, numerous people I’ve heard call it “The Hitler Channel” due to their obession with him and World War II. Discovery I don’t know anything about.
History’s obsession with World War II I’m pretty sure is a matter of economics: There’s more existant stock footage of that war then probably any other war of comparable analyzability.
Finally, History seems to have this tendency of making “documentaries” that purport to be about “solving” some unknown, but in reality just go into detail and don’t solve anything, which could be inferred from the beginning!
Sorry for rantspacewasting…
Absolutely, I’ve been noticing this a lot. Before the ad break they do a kinda this is what we’re going to talk about next and then afterwards they recap what happened before aahhhhhhhhhhhh. Because I use mythtv to record and then watch TV, I though that this may just have been made worse by the fact that I have skipped the adverts.
But even more annoying is that programmes on the BBC seem to have started to do it, even though they do not have breaks in them.
The “sudo documentary” real life programs that the Wife likes to watch such as Suppernanny, and What not to eat are truely bad (in all senses)
However even the second part of the Stephen Fry’s excellent “The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive” spend a quarter of the second episode recapping the first episode. While on a two parter there is some need to help people who missed the first episode, it does no good to make those who have seen the first part feel cheated by telling them things they already know.
Absolutely! This has been driving me nuts recently. It’s made worse by the fact that what little content there is is usually over dramatised and thus diluted further. Even the bastion of quality potted science, Horizon, now does this. Yet another incentive to go to the web for information (not that I need one). Let’s start a campaign for real documentiaries, CAMRDOC ;-)
Television? Oh, yeah, I remember television. How boring. There stopped being anything on it worth seeing sometime in the nineties. (I think the last program I actually looked forward to seeing was Star Trek: the Next Generation, but even when it was on there was already little else worth seeing.) One summer (circa 2001 IIRC) a storm came along and blew our antenna wire loose or something, so we no longer have television. I don’t miss it.
Documentaries? I read random Wikipedia articles. The depth of coverage is sporadic, but the breadth of coverage is very good.
It’s certainly a valid criticism, and one I’ve heard from a number of people over time. Books are just an inherently better mechanism for laying out dense, complex ideas and rafts of information. As with any movie, film documentaries are always inferior to the books on which they are based. Guns, Germs, and Steel is a good example. Great book, but a very repetitive documentary. Regarding the Elegant Universe, I always loved the PBS version. Yes, it does get repetitive, but the stellar visuals and easy narrative are worth it.
I also have been annoyed by the inefficiencies. Usually if a show looks interesting, I record it for viewing later and then fast forward past the ads and repetitive parts. That saves a lot of time.
You’re not alone, Gerv, and I think TV shows are not alone either. It could be seen as a trend. Television is the medium where it’s most blatant.
The sad thing is, this is used as a replacement for good communication skills. To really send a message across, one technique is repetition. But since there are so many different techniques, why not mix them?
Answer: get drunk, then you attention span is shortened to the correct length.
Sorry Gerv, but now that this discussion’s become quite long, could you please remind us of your original point?
If you listen to BBC World Service, you will have noticed that this affliction plagues the hourly program schedule.
The BBC is now so hung up on telling people what is coming up after the news, and then before the actual news bulletin, and even insisting on giving a summary of the news bulletin before somebody else reads the news bulletin, that they have to cut off people being interviewed with the usual phrase
“we have to go now because we are running out of time”.
It almost seems as if the BBC World Service now spends more time telling you about what the programs are going to be about, than actually broadcasting the contents of the program.
Maybe it is all because the BBC has become so intellectually degraded that they have little content to fill the programs and so have to pack the time around the segments with filler in order to avoid dead air during the hour.
I understand that the WWII thing with the History Channel and the like is that this period has a reasonable stock of reasonable-quality, non-copyright film. More recent footage tends to be hugely expensive to get the rights to broadcast and earlier is sparser and grainier.
Uh, The Daily Show: the only news show worth watching. But I’d argue that documentaries and news programs generally suck, because it’s all style over substance (presentation over content, if you will). It’s generally an inefficient way to disseminate information.
Ah, Deep Space Nine was so much better: better stories, less cowardly, and much faster paced (I remember reading some place someone jokingly saying that you need Cliff Notes to keep track of what’s going on, which is good, IMHO). In fact, I still catch reruns occasionally.
Three letters: IFC. How else would such a small-town resident get access to such good movies?
Note that Wikipedia itself says that it’s an unreliable source of information.
> Uh, The Daily Show: the only news show worth watching.
I’m not familiar with it, but I have no use for TV news. The usual line of reasoning as to why we should watch TV news is so that we can “know what’s going on in the world”, but I’m confident I have a better handle than the TV news people do on what’s going on in the world that actually matters, long-term.
> Deep Space Nine was so much better
I liked the first season or so. I forget why I lost interest after that, but I did. I tried to stay interested in Voyager, but once again, after a couple of seasons, I found that I no longer cared. At this point I think I would trade in all the Star Trek ever made for the next Tad Williams book.
But anyway, my real point wasn’t which Star Trek series was best, but that there were so few worthwhile programs on television by the mid nineties that it wasn’t worth our while to fix the antenna. It’s probably just a loose wire up there or something, or maybe the thing’s just aimed wrong. I could probably fix it myself in an hour. In half a decade, I haven’t bothered.
> Note that Wikipedia itself says that it’s an unreliable source of information.
Well, obviously. But it’s not any *more* unreliable than television. Little is.