Too much choice has killed off Christmas 'event' TV | Blaise Tapp

Back in the days of VHS and just the four terrestrial channels, this was the time of year when every home you visited seemed to have a copy of the Radio Times on the coffee table.

By Blaise Tapp
Saturday, 18th December 2021, 10:08 am

In our house, it was the only time of year that we shelled out for a ‘proper TV guide’, and it came complete with pictures of either Noel Edmonds or Dirty Den on the front cover.

This was because, back then, watching television together with loved ones, and even people you didn’t like very much, was officially Christmas law.

These days, although sitting on one’s behind while watching inane nonsense is still very much part of the Yuletide tradition, it is not as much of a group event as it once was.

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The 1996 Christmas special of Only Fools and Horses is a fond memory for Blaise Tapp

Not only do many homes have more than one decent telly these days, but many of us have a phone that allows us to watch anything if we want to develop a permanent squint, and that’s before we even mention the ubiquitous tablet.

Back in the days of event television, tens of millions of us would pile onto sofas across the land to watch soap legends demand a divorce or confront their love rat spouses over an almost implausible affair.

My first Christmas with Mrs Tapp 25 years ago, was spent nestled up with the then future in-laws as we laughed along with more than 21m others at Only Fools and Horses – the one where Del Boy and Rodney end up at a wake dressed as Batman and Robin.

That was Christmas telly’s zenith – and in the last 20 years, no other programme has come close to matching those viewing figures.

Last year’s most watched December 25 programme was Call the Midwife, with just eight million tuning in at the same time to watch fictional nuns and midwives pedal around 1960s London on their bikes.

But this dramatic slump in live viewing wasn’t due to everybody deciding to switch off the box and play charades, Twister or balancing old socks on a semi-comatose uncle’s face, because data shows that we actually looked at our screens more than ever before last year – nearly six hours a day over the Christmas period.

The difference is that we watched what we pleased, when we pleased, without anybody hiding the remote control while Robbie Williams murders Sinatra classics.

This 21st century revolution of viewing habits will mean many taking the opportunity to catch up on missed episodes of Cash in The Attic or classic Friends.

The chances are that your kids will be holed up in their rooms watching an American called Lance stuff three packets of Oreos in his mouth while leaping over an alligator on his skateboard.


It is also highly likely that, at some point next weekend, your offspring will be working on their own production, most likely for the dreaded TikTok, which will almost certainly involve an awkward dance routine and a section where a slightly tipsy dad is the fall guy.

It is not unusual for the average consumer to have access to hundreds of films, box sets and films, which means that we have more viewing choices than at any time in our history.

Choice is good, nobody will argue with that, but it does come with a cost, which is not engaging in the communal act of watching rubbish television and moaning about it.

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a groaned chorus of ‘not him again’ while the family argue about whether Die Hard is a seasonal film. It is – get over it.

We know that this time of year isn’t always a bed of roses – particularly if you are the UK’s prime minister – and can be a time of conflict for some.

Although not the answer to all society’s ills, the box has the potential to be a uniting force.

Of course, if those around you really are getting on your nerves, you can always pretend to fall asleep while Michael McIntyre is on.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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