I don’t like using the word “Noughties”. There’s something I find deeply unsettling about it. Maybe it’s the vague yet deeply-ingrained snobbery I inevitably feel towards buzzwords (which is why I always put them in quotation marks, natch). They’re the mayflies of a linguistic Spring, fleeting and flashy, only as good as their short-life sell-by dates. But then again, some outstay their lives, living beyond their days burned into our collective conscience and, if they’re lucky, next year’s OED.
Perhaps I dislike it because it always brings to mind the tittering, sexually-repressed mindset we Brits are often given credited with. Carry On comedy, Benny Hill, some-or-other squinting misogynist gurning at a girl in a bra. America, for instance, has shunned the use of the “Noughties”. A Stateside friend of mine told me they had toyed with the idea, ultimately rejecting it as “too obviously British for us.”
But it’s not all spank-and-tickle connotations. What of the Noughties signifying not rumpy-pumpy, but nought, zero, absolute nothing… A decade bereft of any character, worth or note. Thanks, Century. Way to kill the buzz.
But if buzzwords can have an effect in the nebulous, poptastic realm of your average viewer, imagine what it’s like in the rarefied, mystical realm of TV production. Heady buzzwords clog the air so tightly they have to be cut out with a machete. Perhaps by some perverse osmosis the industry picked up the sense that we wanted something “Noughtie” on the box. Though following that logic, it has to be said that 90s TV didn’t concern itself overmuch with the adventures of those aged 90 to 99.
Neither were the lives of the 100+ on the agenda with what’s arguably been the defining TV show of the last ten years, a true taste of TV Marmite. Love it or hate it, Big Brother (2000-2010) changed the way we watched TV. I never really tuned in fully – you didn’t actually have to watch it to know what was going on, which was handy. Though that didn’t stop people, and voyeurism was suddenly very vogue.
There were reality shows before and reality shows afterwards, but for pure, grunting, shake-the-jar-and-see-if-they-fight honesty, Big Brother won hands down. It stripped off all the flashing bulbs, questions and game show tat (though it’s only a game show – remember that?) and presented its contestants as nominal public property.
Yet a love affair so bright and burning never lasts. Perhaps the public wanted their privacy back. Either way, the behemoth of BB is slowing; next year will be its last. Well, for a couple of years, at least. But a decade run is nothing to be sniffed at, and the final series, I think we can confidently predict, will surely be eventful.
Yet in 2001, it wasn’t just reality TV that changed the way we view. Reality itself, in its most raw and terrible form, redefined not only the media but the world. The attacks on September 11th were viewed by the entire world on television, a nightmarish panorama that unfolded in rolling news reports. Tragedies and disasters – man-made or otherwise – have always been broadcast to the world since Herbert Morrison’s eyewitness account of the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. But the scale and consequences of the World Trade Centre attacks crystallised itself on the screen – an all-too immediate account of horror and uncertainty, and a savage reminder that the power of TV lies not just in entertainment.
Another drastic change occurred not in our programs but in the way we watched TV. Here was the true beginning of the digital TV age, with E4, BBCs 3 and 4 and a slew of other new channels all appearing within the space of a couple of years. ITV changed its name to ITV1 in preparation for ITVs 2-300, now mostly known as “The Poirot Network”. Would more choice mean in a dip in quality? Would ratings plummet? Heck no! We’ll fill the gaps with so many repeats that you’ll never quite know if you’ve seen this one or not. A Digibox is the entertainment equivalent of looking for a shirt at TJ Hughes. There’s a hell of a lot of stuff out there, and the chances of finding something you like are slim.
But how else were viewing trend defined in the first five years of the “Noughties”? 2002 saw the start of The Wire, the stand-out HBO drama which every TV writer is contractually obliged to mention in every article (if we don’t, Charlie Brooker hunts us down and beats us with a cue ball in a sock). Friends ended in 2003; Fraiser would go the same way the next year – though 2004 would see the start of one of the most glorious cartoons ever to be broadcast. It’s called Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, and if you’ve never seen it then you’re missing out on one of the funniest, most charming shows I’ve seen. Check it out.
But what of the next five years? Tune back in next week (same Bat time, same Bat website) to find out how our viewing habits have been defined by more reality TV, the residents of Watford, and eleven million house calls from a certain Doctor…
It’s not all about me poncing on, y’know. What are your TV highlights from 2000-2004? Let’s get some debate going. C’mon, you know you want to tell me how wrong I am.