Quality imbecility and overdose – the Berlin Spectator
In the 20th century, television in Germany was quite embarrassing, for the most part. It has only partially improved since then.
Berlin, January 22, 2019. Update: June 28, 2021 (The Berlin Spectator) – It is all Manfred von Ardenne’s fault. The German scientist and engineer succeeded in launching the very first TV show 90 years ago, at the “8th Great German Radio Show” in Berlin. Due to his brilliant invention, von Ardenne even made the cover of The New York Times the next day.
Three years later, in 1933, the Nazis discovered that the BBC intended to launch a television program and wanted to get there first. On March 22, 1935, the Nazi channel went on the air. The fascist’s only problem was the fact that there were only 250 television sets. Therefore, the number of viewers was somewhat limited.
The RDA was faster
Most Germans came into contact with this phenomenon called television long after the war, during the Wirtschaftswunder (Miracle on the Rhine) years. Thanks to the Allies, the Marshall Plan and the efforts of the Germans and Gastarbeiter put in their work in the industry, the shelves of food stores began to fill up. Some people might even afford a Volkswagen Beetle or a Ford 17M. And they started to watch TV like crazy.
At first there was only one TV channel, run by the predecessor of the ARD (the abbreviation stands for “Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland”, or “Consortium of public broadcasters of the Republic Federal Council of Germany ‘). In 1963 a second followed, which today is known as ZDF (“Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen”). Then, in 1964, the ARD launched its regional channels throughout West Germany.
Created on December 26, 1952, the television news “Tagesschau” quickly became the most important program of the Federal Republic. In the Communist GDR they were even faster. Their main news program ‘Aktuelle Kamera’ started five days earlier.
Women on TV
Even today, ‘Tagesschau’ is the only program that everyone knows. Its main edition at 8 p.m. even today dictates the programming concept for practically all German channels. Even private TV channels, which did not exist in the 1960s, don’t have the courage to air their main evening shows or movies before 8:15 pm, because that’s when the “Tagesschau” ends. .
But back to the good old days: in the early 1970s, Germans were finally addicted to their television programs. When the new episode of the crime drama “Der Kommissar” aired, streets across the country were almost empty. The same goes for the airing of the family program “Der Grosse Preis” (the heretics called it “Der Grosse Scheiss”).
The host of the show Wim Thoelke was an old school guy who also told his many viewers what he thinks about women, a species that had not yet really been discovered on German television. Commenting on a women’s football match, he said the ladies on the pitch had to wash their own jerseys. For this reason, falling in the mud on the football field was not at all a problem. “Without any concern for their household, their children and their husbands, they kick the ball.” For feminists and their male supporters, it was time for the plural form of “ball” to be kicked, so to speak.
‘Sesame Street’ rejected
Thoelke was not exactly emancipated. But no one else was in charge of programming at ARD or ZDF. It was what it seemed to viewers. The student revolution wasn’t televised either, at least not in a way the students would approve of. German television was rather conservative. But some cultural and educational shows were progressive.
On January 8, 1973, people couldn’t believe their eyes. From that day, a series of children’s programs called “Sesamstrasse” was broadcast. Anyone who has watched this dubbed show, imported from the United States of America, immediately noticed one thing: ‘Sesame Street’ was made with a lot of love. It was also very informative.
Yet the ultra-conservatives were furious. The Bavarian side of the ARD even banned ‘Sesame Street’ from its program. In Munich, in ‘Bayerischer Rundfunk‘, they believed that this series “does not accurately reflect the realities of society”. It was not the only series that the bosses of Bavarian television programs rejected.
A bad word in 281 episodes
While ARD and ZDF imported a lot of movies and series, they also exported. “Derrick” is the title of a crime series produced for over two decades, starting in 1974. Detective Stephan Derrick, played by an actor named Horst Tappert, was so compelling to certain types of audiences, the networks TV stations from around the world were lining up at ZDF to buy every episode they could get their hands on.
Italians loved ‘Derrick’. Likewise the Chinese, the British, the South Africans, the Norwegians, the French and the Australians, as well as many other nations. The inspector tracked down his crooks in many languages while the ZDF was busy adding up all the wire transfers that came in. In 281 episodes, the elegant police detective delivered a lot of suspense. Only once did he curse (“Scheisse!”). His young assistant Harry woke up next to a lady in her bed only once in all of these episodes. That’s how conservative the show was.
Horst Tappert was already dead when a problem arose: in 2013 it emerged that the actor had been a member of the infamous Waffen-SS during WWII. The Waffen-SS divisions were responsible for some of the most terrible war crimes. The ZDF responded immediately, banning all reruns of ‘Derrick’ from its program. The Netherlands and some other countries have followed suit, others have not.
Low quality shows
The Germans were used to three television channels. They had the ARD, the ZDF, and the provinces had their regional “third programs”. These three channels weren’t even broadcasting 24 hours a day. They had something called “Sendeschluss” (“signing time”), sometime after midnight. From that point on, there was nothing left to watch, for anyone without a VCR.
At the end of 1983, the market was opened, which meant that independent TV channels appeared. The same goes for the partially silly programs that they have spread across the country. Critics accused these private channels of sterilizing the BS they broadcast, and they were right. The worst imaginable series have aired, including some low-quality partially sexist shows. In short: they mostly featured violence, boobs, weird entertainment, and commercials.
But over the years, some of the larger private channels have developed their skills and contributed at least to a few watchable shows. RTL has a good reputation. For a while, everything they came up with was copied by SAT1, another private TV station. Up to 200 channels are competing today, including Pro7, RTL2 and many smaller private stations. ARD and ZDF have learned from private competition, while the same goes the other way around.
Center of imbecility
Regarding the quality of German television today: Critics who see it as the center of imbecility are right. At the same time, there are many notable exceptions. These include political talk shows, mostly presented by ladies such as Sandra Maischberger or Anne Will, but also excellent documentaries. Some of these are bought from the BBC and elsewhere.
The ARD and the ZDF in particular, both of which are governed by public law, fulfill their function, which means that they are at least partially worth the billions that German taxpayers contribute directly and indirectly. The third ARD programs also offer educational programming for schools. In parts of East Germany, where many young men go Nazi, they are showing more educational programming on the Holocaust and the Third Reich than in other areas, in an effort to counter the alarming trend.
While private channels primarily want to make money, ARD and ZDF have a mission they need to focus on. They are constantly criticized for wasting a lot of money, but also praised for doing the right thing.
Is today’s German television program good or bad? Well there is obviously a lot of hard or impossible to digest shows including all those shows with what the Germans call ‘Volksmusik’, often presented by a guy named Florian Silbereisen, on the ARD. But, overall, German television does not have to hide. Thanks mainly to ARD and ZDF and their political, historical, educational and cultural broadcasts, no one can dispute the quality of the programming, which the older generations study in the lists provided by countless “television magazines” before grabbing their tickets. remote controls.
Too much quality, of course, doesn’t work. ARD learned this deep piece of wisdom the hard way. When she launched another cultural and educational channel called Eins Plus in the 1980s, hardly anyone watched her due to the quality overdose she delivered. Too intellectual. Too politically correct. They therefore abandoned this channel and became members of 3sat, another cultural channel created by the ZDF, in cooperation with neighbors Austria and Switzerland.
While quality usually doesn’t attract the masses, garbage apparently does. These “Volksmusik” and other non-intellectual programs are very successful. But there are exceptions, which means there are shows that offer both entertainment and quality. ‘Ina’s Nacht’ is a good example. Ina Müller, the host of the show, is original in every way.
Even on the radio
The ARD also operates countless radio stations in all German provinces. Again, they surpass everyone in terms of quality, with all those live broadcasts of Chopin, Mozart and Schubert concerts lasting three hours, but not necessarily when it comes to the sheer quantity of listeners. Idiocy seems to sell much better than quality, even on the radio.
But ARD and private broadcasters share a huge problem: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other such online services are threatening them more and more. The same applies to video broadcasts produced by newspapers on their websites. If traditional TV channels don’t respond, offering more than just posting some of their shows on their websites, they might not exist any longer.
Main photo at the top of the page (portrait of Florian Silbereisen): © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons), edited photo
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