Why Sinking Atlantis is A Worry for All UK Cult TV
By John Hussey.
I will be the first to put my hands in the air and say Atlantis wasn’t the best show on Earth, but it was still entertaining enough and more importantly something that was different from the usual daily dosage of trash television we are drowning in at the moment in this day and age.
It was known from the beginning that Atlantis would be a replacement for cult show Merlin. We even had the same writing team, plus Misfits creator Howard Overman working on this new show. Atlantis was evidently considered strong enough to warrant a second series with it being commissioned by the BBC part way through the airing of Series One. So why now, part way through Series Two, does the same corporation decide to give the show the boot?
If anything the show had improved and we had a strong build-up to some great events to come within the second half due to be aired in Spring this year. The fact that the BBC didn’t allow the second half to even air before making this harsh decision shows how insecure they are at the moment. All these talks about budget cuts means fear will make their audience question whether their favourite show will make it to the end of its next season.
Assuming part of their decision was down to the lower ratings during the first half of Series Two, you have to take into account the show was being broadcast at prime-time on Saturday nights against the likes of X-Factor. With that there is near certainty that overnight viewing figures will be dominated by these types of ‘talent’ shows because it happens to be the wider public’s preference in this day and age. I often find myself wondering why this is, but it has just become a natural, if saddening fact.
The BBC have had to combat ITV and its large range of reality rubbish, but why give up on Atlantis now? Surely they should’ve waited and seen how the second half did when they aren’t battling against ITV’s biggest hot-spot season? It would be very sad to see the viewing figures go up during the second half (though it would serve the BBC right for making such a rash judgement so early on).
Speaking about the viewing figures, on average Atlantis pulled in just shy of 5 million viewers overnight, with the mid-season finale making more than the season’s premiere. That to me is still a nice steady amount of viewings and although it could’ve been higher, one crucial factor we have to take into account is the modern day means of watching television.
A not insignificant number of the population don’t actually watch television on its broadcast day and time any more, but rather at their own leisure through catch-up or other online means. Who is to say that the ratings aren’t doubled when the BBC iPlayer figures are taken in account? Series 8 of Doctor Who, for instance didn’t rack in a massive amount of overnight figures last year despite its huge status and popularity, but the catch-up ratings hugely boosted its numbers up and helped maintain its position within prime-time television. Why couldn’t the same thing have happened to Atlantis?
The biggest frustration out of this entire ordeal is the fact that cult UK television is on the decrease. Too many shows now are based around the genres of soaps, reality, game shows or crime. They share all the same ‘qualities’ and become a mesh of repetitive ideas to the point where they all roll into one and become the same thing repeated with a slightly different name. ITV are notorious for producing trash television, I point to X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Only Way is Essex to name but a few. Because of this high demand for crap television we are made to suffer.
The BBC are starting to run down the route of producing more and more game shows, reality shows and endless one-off crime dramas to combat ITV. What the BBC should be doing is ditching the likes of The Voice (which is potentially an X-Factor wannabe) and keep on creating new and original shows. Or better shows that branch out into other genres such as fantasy, science-fiction and etc. like In the Flesh, which was also recently cancelled.
British television has lost so much quality cult television through the increase of reality television and it’s about time we say “that’s enough”. We’ve now lost Atlantis, so that the BBC can supposedly branch out its programmes but what does that entail? My biggest worry is that Atlantis will be replaced by the latest ideas in trash television and thus we lose what we had, a replacement cult show.
It also makes me wonder what chance does Doctor Who, Sherlock and The Musketeers have in surviving this age? These shows aim to be different by dipping into genres that are less in the spotlight. It’s a scary thought considering Atlantis was in fact considered a big hit within the BBC’s establishment and was deemed the most successful Saturday night drama launch in seven years, yet not even one series year later it’s dead.
My biggest despair is knowing that the writers that have tried their best to work on Atlantis have been met with a tragic end as their characters and storylines will end prematurely. That’s the worst thing to happen. The knowledge that something was meant to continue but we can’t see progress is heartbreaking really and completely frustrating. With how Series Two has been playing out I wouldn’t be surprised if the team had game-changing ideas on its way within the next commissioned series, but alas it is something we’ll never see happen now and things will be left unresolved forever.
Another favourite show of mine, Broadchurch, is being panned by the critics in its second series and this annoys me considering its one of the more unique dramas ITV has had in a long time. Throw reality television out of the window and look at David Tennant and Olivia Colman’s brilliant performances and witness quality television at its best through the suspense, tension and care that Chris Chibnall has put into his creation. I fear this will be the next to get an axe because some people and trigger happy TV execs can’t see quality writing when it stares them in the face.
The bottom-line is that there just aren’t enough unique programmes out there these days and the downfall of Atlantis leads one to question where this road will lead us in terms of quality television. All I know is this is a tragic loss and it’s a massive disgrace on the BBC’s end, especially to those like me who enjoyed watching it week in and out. I can only end with saying that the BBC really need to sort out their priorities and listen to what we want instead of just axing shows with abandon and churning out more rubbish.