Beer on TV: What Do We Really Want?
(Apologies for the length of this post – normal service will resume shortly!)
I seem to have been talking a lot recently to colleagues, bloggers and friends about TV food shows, and by association, Beer on TV. I know that it’s dangerous to take the microcosm of Twitter as your main world view, given that you’re generally talking to people who you share interests with, but the subject does seem to explode whenever a new show gets announced (thanks for the heads up, Chris).
I’m someone that watches a lot of food and travel shows. In reality, Beer does enjoy the odd cameo here and there. With the devil that is Sky, I can sit and watch re-run upon re-run of (now incredibly dated) travel shows such as Planet Food and see the odd visit to a German Bierkeller, or entire episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations that involve him sitting around in Pubs in Scotland with Ian Rankin, enjoying stout and pie with cabbies in Ireland, or taking us on a tour of dive bars in New York – even enjoying a tour around Prague with Evan Rail (A subject Evan gracefully handled despite bodily injury, if I do say so myself.)
The gems keep coming. A brief glimpse of Beer in Keith Floyd’s (another hero of mine) Alsace episode from Floyd on France (which, thankfully, I found on YouTube the day after I watched it) and the odd social documentary about drinking and / or pubs. There was even a pretty-enjoyable-if-you’re-into-pubs programme on a few years back called (somewhat jauntily) Save Our Boozer , in which a bloke called Jay helped villages claim back closed pubs and turn them into community pubs.
But there’s that overriding feeling that it’s not enough, isn’t there? Plus, should we really have to trawl back through dated TV re-runs to glean nuggets of Beer Culture?
Somewhat pessimistically, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that if it’s a Food & Drink style show entirely about beer that we want, it’s not going to happen. Beer, although gaining in popularity, is still ‘niche’ in TV terms – and that’s the point of these ramblings, I guess. TV shows are rarely there to serve our best interests. TV shows cost money to make, and have to make that money back. Would a show entirely about beer be watched by enough people? Probably not.
Of course, there are some precedents. The ‘laddish’ tone of shows with Neil Morrissey and Oz Clarke managed to get on the box at something resembling primetime hours, and contained some interesting points and coverage for the breweries involved (which, surely, is the point of all this?) – but they had to have those presenters on to get people to watch. One oft-forgotten show was one of the first cooking shows I watched when I bought Sky for the first time - Great Food Live, hosted by the charming Jeni Barnett. It was the only format show of its kind that I have seen that regularly featured beer. The beer sections were hosted often by Rupert Ponsonby and were critical, interesting and relevant to what they were discussing – a type of cuisine, new releases, seasonality. I’d go as far as to say it made me go out and buy beer. My blog started around this time.
Unfortunately, it was replaced in 2007 with Market Kitchen, a ‘spunky’ new show that piggybacked the Farmer’s Market trends of recent years. I know which one I preferred.
So, what do I want?
Well, from a culture point of view, I’d like to see a travel show based on Pubs of the UK. Pubs abroad. Vignettes of ‘Pub life’. Hosted by people who not only understand the subject, but can perhaps offer new perspectives on it. Let the subject do the talking. The BBC’s excellent Italy Unpacked has well and truly cracked this presenting format. Likewise the ‘team’ approach Imagine Coast or Countryfile – but for pubs and beer. That’s what I’ve got in my head.
From a tasting/ flavour point of view, I’d like to see Beer appearing with regularity on food shows. That’s all. Shows like Floyd Uncorked and The Beer Hunter (Click on the link to see a lovely, lovely interview Michael Jackson holds with a cabbie that somehow sums this entire piece up in some way) simply won’t happen again, and pining for that era is probably a waste of time. A little parity, perhaps. is what I want. The less it appears, the less people think of it. And the less people think of it, the more niche it becomes. There are plenty of people out there who could pull these kinds of thing off; but TV is a medium unlike no other, and we need to bear that in mind. A good writer may not make a good presenter – and vice versa.
Beer TV needs to appeal to more than people interested in Beer. It needs to be inclusive. Male and female, keg and cask, bar and pub. It must not exist in a beery microcosm no matter how popular that is; you only have to go onto YouTube and look at the video reviewing community there to see the popularity of exchanging tasting notes on camera – but YouTube is not TV.
Frankly, I’m not sure how we make that happen.