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May 7, 2009

Am rather sad to hear about the demise of the great British television arts series, The South Bank Show, which the ITV network has decided to can after 33 years on the air.

Failing media budgets seem to be a major contributing factor to the decision to shut down the program. The other main reason cited by the network is to do with the departure of the show's long-term host, Melvyn Bragg, who's been running the programme since it started in 1978. In an article in The Times, the network is quoted as saying: "The South Bank Show and Melvyn go hand in hand".

I wonder what this will mean for British arts programming? Will ITV actually fulfill its promise of fostering new opportunities for arts coverage on the network? It's hard to imagine any other show doing such a thorough and entertaining job of exploring global culture with such breadth and eclecticism.

That being said, my own personal brush with Melvyn and his entourage wasn't exactly wonderful. I once interviewed for a coveted "researcher" position on the show. This was in 2001 or 2002, I think. I sailed through the first interview with a couple of the Great Man's flunkies and was invited for an audience with Melvyn himself.

This wasn't so much fun. I remember walking into a dark room with about six sloaney-looking TV types sitting around a rectangular table. Melvyn was holding court in the middle.

The basic premise of the interview was to see how I would defend myself in a contentious pitch session. I didn't realize this at the time however. No one actually told me that I'd be openly contradicted. Being a naive, sincere little thing, I didn't have the wits to latch onto Melvyn's game. I thought he hated my ideas and flatly rejected them when he asked me to suggest several potential subjects for upcoming South Bank Show episodes and barked "conductors are boring!" when I suggested the idea of devoting an episode to orchestral maestros. I turned red at his assault and meekly replied "Oh?" What I should have said of course was "No, conductors are NOT boring, Sir Melvyn, and here's why..." But I wasn't expecting to be challenged in this way. I was completely caught off guard. Naturally my lack of spine didn't go over well with the sloanes and their king. I didn't get the job.

I don't remember feeling too cut up about it, although it might have been fun to work on the programme for a couple of years. It's all moot now though. Even the sloanes are having to pack up their MacBook Airs.


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