Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph’s theatre critic, wrote a memorable review a few years ago in which he described how he longed to track down the director of a particularly bad play and give him a good kicking. You could feel Spencer’s pain and sense of aesthetic injustice. He longed for retribution.
Today, I’m in a Charles Spencer kind of mood. The urge to smash things up is quite overwhelming. The assertion – propagated by numerous media – that reality TV show Hydra Executives has been a runaway success for the past few months – both in terms of entertainment and TV ratings – bothers me. Pure torture to watch, it is, without any shadow of a doubt, one of the worst TV shows ever made and should be viewed as a major embarrassment for those TV stations that have aired it. All I can say is that, right now, the day when the Middle East sells its first TV show format to the rest of the world seems further away than ever.
Not that Hannah Dodkin (pictured) is complaining. She’s walked away with $500,000 in prize money. Showtime, however, should be concerned. If this is the standard of locally produced content that we can expect from one of the region’s premier pay-TV networks, then we’re in trouble. Have we really made no progress at all in the past four years? Is mimicking TV show formats from the West, and doing them badly, still all that the Middle East’s TV industry is capable of?
Hydra Executives is even more painful when you consider that pay-TV networks should be leading by example. HBO – the home of The Wire and The Sopranos – has consistently provided world-class entertainment on the back of subscription money. Free from the need to raise funds through advertising, it has invested in some of the finest entertainment ever created. Is it not fair, therefore, to ask why a similar scenario could not be repeated in the Middle East?