As you’ve no doubt noticed, there’s a tendency on TV nowadays to talk over the closing credits, or distract from it in other ways.
I know this has been going on the USA for some time (I saw an episode of Seinfeld where the closing action was reduced to about 2/3 of the screen whilst some other gubbins scrolled along the bottom of the screen – even as the closing credits for Seinfeld were running on the ‘inset’, thus forcing the viewer to look at one or the other), but this sort of thing’s moderately new to the UK.
It’s used to varying degrees – BBC1, ITV and Five are pretty happy to do it, cheerfully talking over the closing titles of almost any programme with closing credits, though BBC2 and Channel 4 seem a tad more hesitant, especially with films. Equity kicked up a fuss about the ‘squashing’ of credits a few years ago (2003, I think it was), on the grounds that the small type made it impossible for actors and other cast and crew members to be identified, and that they were thus losing out on work. Not entirely sure that this argument holds up on a practical level in these internet days, but I can see what they’re driving at.
The argument that TV channels make about trimming, slicing, squashing or otherwise diminishing the closing credits, as I understand it, goes something like this: in tests, an overwhelming majority of people polled (something like 60% or more) were found to start turning over once the credits started rolling. The argument thus goes that the channel needs to act to capture the audience’s attention and keep them watching – hence the inserted clips from the programme coming next, or a voice-over to tell you what’s following, or even a clip from the following episode of the show you’ve just watched to remind you when next it’s on.
Now, at the risk of creating a straw man in terms of this subject, I have to say that I’ve never found any of the arguments at all compelling; in these Sky and Digital days (with the latter set to become mandatory over the next decade or so*), it’s never been easier to find out what’s on and coming next on any given channel (with an onscreen guide at the flick of a button), or to find out when the next episode of a programme is. So I don’t buy that argument.
Nor am I convinced by the need to show me a clip from the following week’s programme – in fact, I find it dispels any sense of drama. If I see that Doctor Gregory House has tripped over his cane at home and cracked his head on the lino and has passed out with nobody to help him, that’s a cliffhanger that’ll draw me back. I don’t want to then be given a forty-second edit of the next episode in which House is clearly up and about and doing fine. It defeats the purpose of having such an element to the script, and as one who dabbles with words myself, I can only imagine how annoying it must be for the writers involved to find that someone at the TV channel feels that they have better instincts about drama than they do.
Okay, so I’ve loaded that example rather by referring to a US show (bear in mind my comments about this being more prevalent in the USA), but it still holds true for Casualty, The Bill, and many other drama series on UK TV. In fact, on Tuesday night, at the end of EastEnders on BBC1, unless I’m very much mistaken, they showed a clip from Thursday’s episode of the series, and reminded the viewer that it was on again on Thursday night.
Now, to me, this seems to be extracting the urine at a very high level. EastEnders has – with very few exceptions – been on Tuesday and Thursday since its inception a couple of decades ago, so it’s not going to be a surprise to anyone watching it on Tuesday that it’ll be on Thursday as well. The trailer did nothing to let the viewer know what was on next on BBC1, and as well as ignoring the work put into the episode (that is, in trying to draw back the viewer with a wish to know more) by the crew, it effectively patronised the viewer by telling them something they almost certainly knew already.
I have to say that I don’t care for the whole ‘squeezing’ of credits and the like, mainly because it just looks tacky and rating-grabbing, but also because it seems to be symptomatic of the whole ‘building a brand’ nonsense which means that programmes on the BBC have their logo stamped on the titles at some point. The thing that gets me about all this is – and I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again – ‘building a brand’ is not simply flogging stuff. To be truly involved in building a brand, you have to do the legwork, and actually create stuff from scratch. Just slapping logos (oh, sorry, I mean ‘Digital Onscreen Graphics’) and trailers and voice-overs and other attempts to keep my attention is not ‘building’ anything, it’s just selling something that already exists.
And perhaps it’s my contrary way, but the more someone tries to sell something to me, the more I feel the urge to take my time, attention and money elsewhere. The solution, to my mind, would be to make the viewing available so absolutely riveting that I simply wouldn’t want to turn over. But that take a bit more effort and creative endeavour, doesn’t it ?
*Not because digital will give you a better picture, of course, but because the government has decided to sell off the frequencies. Which is interesting, as it suggests they in some way own them, as opposed to being charged with a duty to look after them. Legally I’d be interested to know what the position is on this sale (as with all the privatisations of the 1980s and 1990s). It has an unsavoury feel of gamekeeper turned poacher about it to me.