Ready to rumble: the terrestrial TV tussle

As a self-confessed television addict, I’ve spent some of the better parts of my teenage years curled up in bed or on the sofa with a cup of tea and several hours of decent TV ahead of me.

As a self-confessed television addict, I’ve spent some of the better parts of my teenage years curled up in bed or on the sofa with a cup of tea and several hours of decent TV ahead of me. I’ve progressed through the ages along with my television, and went from having only five channels to a glorious range of hundreds to choose from.

Like anyone else, I’m grateful to have 5USA and endless hours of CSI, E4 and back-to-back How I Met Your Mother, and the guilty pleasures of Food Network – Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, anyone?

But with this huge world of television at our fingertips, never mind catch-up TV online, are we losing our appreciation for our own, basic terrestrial channels? As a nation, we have some of the finest television broadcasting in the world, from documentaries to dramas.

With some of the most hard-hitting journalism and critically acclaimed writing across all television series, as viewers, we have a lot to be grateful for. The only question is, which of our classic five channels is still pushing your button and making you want to tune in?

BBC One and Two

I think we all have a bit of a deep-rooted pride in the British Broadcasting service, despite all the controversy that’s surrounded it in recent years. I grew up in a house where BBC News was always on during dinner, as the broadcasting was efficient, concise and politically savvy.

Consequently, I’ve developed into the kind of person who watches the news to learn about the news, as opposed to watching integrated segments about the plight of a local duck pond (guilty as charged ITV). The BBC, as easy a target as it is for criticism, is a well-established and well-run organisation, and you have to acknowledge their ability to do what it does well after so many years.

The BBC is also a good hub for drama these days, as the two channels that broadcast Doctor Who, Sherlock, Outnumbered, Call the Midwife and many, many more. Even this small selection of current shows on the BBC show a variety of award winning writing and acting.

The BBC were also the first of the terrestrial channels to launch a watch on demand service in the form of iPlayer which, as a student with cheap internet, I can tell you always works in comparison to other on demand services. Arguably, the BBC is working hard to present us with shows that people of all generations are keen to watch, as well as keeping up with the technological demand of today.

If our grandma’s can catch up with Strictly while we catch up with Mock the Week in the next room, surely they’re doing something right.


Turning over now to ITV, a channel rising through the ranks of national television. ITV seems to have spent the last few decades striving hard to catch up to BBC standards. Their news presenting has become gradually more elegant, their style of drama has fallen hard into a certain period (although, let’s face it, we all love Downton Abbey more than we care to admit) and their quiz shows have stopped being so laughable that it hurts.

ITV is making strides, especially with morning TV. This is the channel best known for GMTV and then Daybreak and This Morning, and is certainly my choice to wake up with at the start of a busy weekday.

ITV spent a long time looking for its niche, which its finally found in the form of daytime TV. Jeremy Kyle, Midsomer Murders repeats and classic afternoon films can waste away any good, lazy, stay-at-home day. There’s been some recent news about the BBC and ITV competing for sports coverage for the world cup, but in fact there’s little contest.

ITV showing the football certainly boosts its ratings for a couple of weeks a year, but ultimately leaves the BBC with the airtime for more important shows. If you had to choose between ITV cancelling shows for the England game, or the BBC losing all its air time, who would you pick? Did you really have to think about that one?

Channel 4

Is it finally our turn now?

Well, yes, it is, but I don’t really know what you mean by ‘finally.’ You’re the fourth channel, and I grouped the BBC into one so technically you’re third. You haven’t been waiting that long.

It’s felt like bloody ages.

Ironic this, isn’t it? I was going to introduce you as the channel that speaks for itself anyway.

You mean with our mix of solid, brutal journalism, intense news reporting, addictive drama and American favourites?

I’ll let you take over, shall I?

No, no, by all means go ahead. I just figure you wouldn’t be able to present us with anywhere near the same amount of class as John Snow, or the feel good wit of Tim Lovejoy on Sunday Brunch.

Can I at least try?

Sure, sure. We’re all about fair and equal representation here. Just look at Dispatches.

Channel 4 labelled itself recently in its Gay Mountain advert, supporting athletes and all those being persecuted in Russia with the epitomy of subtlety, as ‘BORN RISKY,’ which is a good way to sum up such a stoically British channel. As a network that’s unafraid to broadcast rude, sarcastic and blunt humour, as well as intense documentaries about life all over the world, Channel 4 should make us proud to be British.

It appeals to most of us by being just daring enough to work, and balancing out dark and twisted dramas with enough light comedy from the States to keep us tuned in all day.

If you want to watch Sunday Brunch and then The Simpsons you can do, and then enjoy some Ugly Betty repeats before settling in to watch the nitty gritty facts of Sexting Teacher, or any other Channel 4 documentary.

Characterised by their thudding opening theme music and chilling voice overs, Channel 4 journalism is usually both jaw-dropping and eye-opening.

That was pretty good. A bit rehearsed. Not quite as spontaneous as we like to be.

Spontaneous? You’ve shown The Simpsons every day at 6pm for over twenty years!

We’re dependable and mysterious. What more do you want from us?

Channel 5

I usually try hard to present different arguments when writing an article, or to appeal to different sides of a case, but I’m afraid I can’t bring myself to praise much of Channel 5’s merits. It shows CSI sometimes. And it’s the best channel for Christmas movies when that time of year rolls around. They do know how to put on a classic film. It’s just a shame that they’re usually scheduled at 2pm on a weekday when most of us are, you know, doing more important things.

Natasha Kaplinsky – you were a goddess on the BBC. I hope Channel 5 are paying you handsomely.

Are you a fan of the classic terrestrial channel and appreciate British broadcasting? Have your say in the comments section below.