Keys To Rejuvenating TV

 By Jane Mote

My Bulgarian Hairdresser gets it. He knows he’s being lulled into a semi-coma by the box in his living room that no longer makes him feel angry, surprised or challenged by the world. Over a haircut, we wonder if there’s a conspiracy to subdue us through TV and divert us from what really matters.

TV is the most powerful medium we have to influence and energise, so why don’t we do more to open its power to new voices and open the minds of its viewers to new ideas?

Maybe there was a time when things were different: More 4 used to be packed with challenge; the power of documentary was understood. When Morgan Spurlock’s 30 Days premiered on More 4, the American working class didn’t need fictionalising to be gripping. Now, outside of the True Stories bright spot, Come Dine With Me, Coach Trip and Grand Designs dominate. It’s become TV you may as well Skype to.

The BBC is like McDonald’s: in fear of one bad burger (or Daily Mail story) that could tarnish its international reputation. That fear, together with layers of process and policy, have stymied risk-taking. Which might be why BBC3 commits to just a few new film-makers a year and leans heavily on Don’t Tell The Bride and EastEnders repeats.

Because of the way Current TV is funded – as a pay channel on Sky and Virgin – we can dedicate ourselves to new and fresh storytellers 24/7. We look at stories first and then work out slots later. We don’t go to the market with preconceptions about what our viewers may want. Instead, the storytellers come to us from all directions – web, digital, hip hop, first-timers – and we build our channel around them.

Take Ruaridh Arrow’s How to Start A Revolution, spotted on a crowd-funding site. Ruaridh spent years pursing this extraordinary story of the man behind a blueprint for non-violent struggle, central to the Arab Spring, and we backed him when he needed it. Now he’s central to our new year schedule and just won Best Doc at the 19th Raindance Festival.

Or Tomas Sheridan, who mentioned at Sheffield Doc/Fest that he had a pile of rushes on his hard drive for a love story of modern times that he couldn’t place anywhere. We responded immediately and Babytrapped – a documentary that is so real previewers think it is fiction – was born.

TV can – and should – fill the democratic deficit that Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is rightly concerned about. Documentaries can change the way people think.

As Kevin MacDonald said in Current’s 50 Docs To See Before You Die: “Reality just has more power and is more strange than anything you can make in a fiction film.”

We want Current to be a haven for free speech and free-thinking. We’ve worked with nearly 200 new or nascent film-makers.

Young, smart viewers don’t want homogeneity in their TV landscape; they want an open door to people like them who create content that matters.

After a passionate debate from the quality of healthcare to Occupy Wall Street, I asked my hairdresser what he’d be watching this weekend. “The X Factor,” he sighed. He’d really enjoyed talking about the stuff he cares about. It’s everybody’s challenge to hook him in.

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About Jane Mote

Jane MoteJane Mote is Managing Director of Current UK an independent TV channel founded by Al Gore and social entrepreneur Joel Hyatt to give a voice to fearless story-tellers. She started out as a newspaper hack and after years in the Beeb she created BBC London the BBC's first tri-media operation. She stepped into channel management at the Community Channel and then UKTV where she became Director of Factual, Lifestyle and Multiplatform. She created six new brands for UKTV including Yesterday, Really and Eden. She has been at Current for four months where she is having a ball.

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The  Keys To Rejuvenating TV