The popularity of TV repeats at Christmas

Christmas TV, media, culture, Tayler Finnegan, Kettle Mag
Written by Tayler Finnegan

With Christmas only a few days away, many of us will be grabbing a marker pen and a copy of the trusty Radio Times Christmas 2015 issue, or scouring the digital TV guide if you’re firmly in the 21st century, and deciding what festive programmes are worth watching.

This year there are noticeably fewer TV repeats on BBC One over the Christmas period than previous years. In fact, on Christmas day between 10am and midnight, there are no repeats at all- only original programmes and recent films. Head of Entertainment Commissioning Mark Linsey explained that “in BBC One peak time more than 90 per cent of programmes will be brand new.”

Linsey, who is performing the Director of Television role following the departure of Danny Cohen, in media interviews, said: 

“No-one invests as much in original programming over Christmas as the BBC. I think this is an impressive commitment, not least given the BBC is facing unprecedented financial pressure and is in the process of saving £1.6 bn. These cuts will make the challenge even more difficult in future, but we will always try to offer our best shows in Christmas peak time.”

Defending the slightly smaller but still significant number of repeats the BBC will air over the holiday period, Linsey further explained the rationale behind showing repeats.

“Many people appreciate – or even expect – a chance to watch old favourites again,” Linsey said. “Five million tuned in to a repeat of Mrs Brown’s Boys last year and we shouldn’t forget that online video streaming services that are growing so rapidly right now mainly offer programmes from the archive. So we should make no apology for giving viewers another chance to watch some classic BBC programmes and modern family favourites again, as long as they are used carefully and offered alongside a distinctive mix of new programmes, like we have this Christmas… our mission has always been to entertain, as well as inform and educate. Our channels are hugely distinctive and that is an all-year-round commitment – not just for Christmas.”

Many of the BBC1 Christmas repeats are movies, including A Christmas Carol, Mary Poppins and animated family favourite The Gruffalo. In recent weeks we have been treated to the Toy Story trilogy.

Linsey poked fun at the tabloids’ fondness for repeating the same articles criticising the BBC’s Christmas schedule by remarking: “I’m sure we all agree that no one minds seeing some things again, given that the same headlines about Christmas repeats on TV appear in the press every year.” He added that claims made against the corporation were “like the Christmas board game, Balderdash.”

With the BBC champions of diversity, it only makes sense that they would incorporate old favourites into a schedule dominated by original programming. Some of the impressive highlights to look forward to this year include Agatha Christie adaptation And Then They Were None, character drama Dickensian and David Walliams’ Billionaire Boy. We can also expect new episodes of Luther, Sherlock and Still Open All Hours.

On Christmas Day we can enjoy completely new telly as there are no repeats between 10am and midnight. The scheduling shows a stark difference from last year where there was three old films and an episode of Only Fools and Horses on BBC One. Christmas is a time when we get nostalgic for the years gone by and the people we have lost. While new programmes educate and broaden our minds, festive TV repeats can take us back to the simpler times we long for.

So, what makes television repeats art forms, worth watching over and over again?

Festive favourites

One particular type of television programme that we most enjoy re-watching is sitcoms. Situational comedies make up a large part of the Christmas TV schedule, with episodes dating back more than three decades. We enjoy watching the likes of Only Fools and Horses, The Royle Family and Gavin and Stacey any time of the year as they encapsulate the simplicity of the human condition. The Christmas specials, then, are representative of our own domesticity as we celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. With classic comedy moments and heart-breaking sadness, it is no wonder that so many of us revisit the festive specials of shows that hold so many fond memories.

We see ourselves in the characters of these sitcoms, whether is the two brothers suffering the culinary disasters of their grandad, the exasperated mother trying to placate everyone, or a family coming together without (hopefully) too much drama.

You may be surprised to hear that watching television repeats is good for us. A 2012 study from the University of Buffalo in the US state of New York showed that watching television repeats can have a restorative effect on the individual. Studies have shown a marked improvement in concentration– perhaps because you’re intently waiting for that comedy moment that only gets better with each watch- and an increase in self-control, which is accredited to the “guilty pleasure” status we assign to those cheesy television shows we would not be without.

Television repeats are comforting to us, perhaps because we know what to expect and will not be caught off-guard by a rogue plot twist. In fact, Dr Jaye Derrick from the University of Buffalo coined the term “social surrogate restoration,” likening our favourite TV pals to a virtual friends and family. So, there’s no need to feel bad over neglecting real people for the more agreeable characters of your top shows this Christmas.

We have a limited pool of valuable mental resources, such as willpower and energy. TV reruns require less energy from us as we usually know the plotline and best of all, we still get the interaction and stimulation we need from our favourite characters. Who wants to actually have to use precious mental energy to concentrate over the Christmas period, anyway?

The study’s findings that watching TV repeats is good news for those of us who love nothing more than relaxing in front of the television, full from a festive feast and sated from the copious amounts of mulled wine, to enjoy yet another Morecambe and Wise special.

So, don’t feel too guilty about claiming the remote control this holiday period, will you?

What do you think about repeats on telly? Have your say in the comments section below.