Warmer: Do you watch a lot of TV? How much? Do you have any favourite TV channels or programmes? In your opinion, what are the good and bad things about Polish TV?
Now read the text below, then answer the questions that follow.
Polish TV – in decline, behind the times, and droning dubbing… but the women are very nice
Written by Roger Hartopp and adapted from various articles, December 2017/August 2018
I’m sorry, but Polish television is awful. Can it really be any worse than it is? Well, actually, yes it can, if you’re one of those who watch TVP1 or 2, and are getting to be a little tired of being told what a wonderful job the government is doing while giving little or no attention to the bad things. In other words, state interference. And as it’s a conservative government, non-progressive views would appear to translate as non-progression in TV and so being out of touch.
But for this writer, who doesn’t really pay that much attention to television in Poland (because, as I’ve already said, it’s awful), this is one of the least of its problems.
Back in the seventies, Paul Klien – who was the chief programmer of American channel NBC – came up with a theory that states TV viewers do not select programmes: they merely ‘watch’ television. They switch channels until a show appears that is likely to cause them the least pain and annoyance, even if it is not to their taste, a task accomplished very easily thanks to the remote-control unit. Often what is being shown on the screen is only left as background, the effect of creating an ambience in the room but the initiator paying absolutely no attention to what is going on, either reading something from the paper, magazine or their phone. In the age of multiplatform television, there are several channels that could fill that background role easily – music, shopping, news, religion. Basically, any channel that focuses only on certain genres. This phenomenon exists in every country; however, it’s worth mentioning here as many of us are often unaware of what we’re doing. But in this article I’m focussing on Polish television’s general programming.
Television is in decline, and has been now for some considerable time. It faces stiff competition from other sources of media, thanks to cable, satellite, and – in particular – the internet. Many of us, particularly the young, are choosing to ignore what the TV companies are putting out in the form of live programming and are choosing their own schedules and entertainment, often using Video On Demand (VOD) services which allows them to watch what they want and when they want on their computers, resulting in many choosing to get rid of their TV or not have one at all. But Polish TV seems to be very slow in recognising this. Much of what is shown on mainstream TV has changed little in style and content over the past few years; it seems, for many, to be catering for that very same audience from the past. And hairdressers. (I’ll explain that particular point later.)
To begin with, Polish TV in general appears to have the same boring presenters and personalities that have been doing the same jobs for twenty or more years and show few signs of being replaced (unless they have upset the government on the state channels). There’s little in the way of original programming, with blatant rip-offs of US/UK series/shows, although to be fair, several of these are licenced: all the talent, reality and quiz shows very much come into this category.
Then we have perfectly good children’s programmes from abroad that have been dubbed with street slang just to make them more ‘cool’ or ‘spoko’, etc, etc. If that wasn’t bad enough, with imported television shows we have the dubbing with one speaker only (and known in Poland as a lektor) and the original soundtrack in the background. Now for an English speaker this is incredibly annoying. Why do they do this? Surely Polish people are not that lazy when it comes to reading subtitles, or maybe doing full dubbing is too expensive. But with increasingly easier access to superior English-language (and Scandinavian) dramas, younger people – who are getting better and better at English – are no longer prepared to wait for a dubbed version, or with the one speaker – usually male, and spoken in a low, dull, droning voice – at that. Even when there is a scene where a woman is shouting at the top of her voice (read this as if you are a lektor!): “Help me. What are you doing. You can’t leave me.” At least TVN has recognised this in one aspect: for their evening movies on their mainstream channel, the lektor has been removed and the viewer can now choose between Polish subtitles or nothing at all.
And the commercials. Hundreds of them! TVN and POLSAT, the two mainstream independent channels, often show some big movies (and usually dubbed by that one speaker, of course, and often there is no chance to get rid of him, even with satellite and cable), but when we get a commercial break at what seems to be a random point in the film, they go on for about fifteen minutes. Actually, is it random? I switch channels only to find commercials running there too! And talking of films, when the channels want to advertise a big movie meant for 15 years or older, they play trailers at peak times, complete with scenes that are frankly unsuitable for children.
Then there’s the onscreen clutter. In Britain, at least the companies there restrict the channel’s logo to a nice small size in the corner of the screen: enough to identify the channel in the age of multi-channel television, but not to be seen as a distraction. Here, the logo is bright white and occupies a fair old chunk of the corner of the screen. And on top of that, there is a coloured shape in the other corner telling you the age group the programme is aimed at, sometimes with a number stuck in it. 12 is particularly ubiquitous.
Oh, and I nearly forgot, they often add a ‘scrolling news ticker’ at the bottom of the screen either telling you what’s coming next or trying to get you to enter some pointless competition. And the commercial channels put out a lot of that ‘12 certificate’ junk on during the daytime; usually human misery stuff about dysfunctional relationships. Who watches that crap? Quite a lot of people, it seems, as they keep them on. Particularly for customers sitting in hairdressers. What does this tell me about the mentality of the viewership here?
Sadly, I’m sorry to say – and I’m sorry if I’m being sexist – the only positive thing about Polish TV is the nice looking women. Is Polish TV really that bad or am I just being overly critical?
1. What does the writer, generally, think of Polish TV? Why does he think state TV has got worse? Is this his biggest complaint about Polish TV?
2. In the text, Paul Klien’s theory stated that TV viewers do not select programmes: they merely ‘watch’ television. How much do you agree/disagree with this statement?
3. According to the text, why is television viewing generally in decline?
4. What does the writer think of Polish TV presenters?
5. What particularly annoys him about some dubbed children’s programmes?
6. What are his criticisms as regards foreign shows and movies that are dubbed by just the one speaker?
7. What are his main criticisms of TVN and POLSAT?
8. What does he mean by ‘onscreen clutter’?
9. Does he have anything positive to say about Polish TV?
10. Do you think that it is unfair for an English speaker to criticize Polish TV or does he have any valid points?
11. If you could change something about the way Polish TV is run, what would you do?
12. How do you see the future of television in general? Will the mainstream channels continue to exist in their current form or do you see them moving to video platforms such as YouTube, or perhaps everything becomes Video On Demand only rather than actual live programming?
conservative government – here, a government that prefers gradual or no change, preferring to stay with traditional values
initiator – the person responsible for thinking of or starting a plan or process
multiplatform television – the many methods and providers of presenting TV programmes such as satellite, cable, the internet, video streaming, YouTube, etc
genre – a category of TV programme such as comedy, drama, music, news, etc
programming – here, the programmes broadcast on radio or TV along with the schedule and selection of these programmes
in decline – to be gradually decreasing in importance, quality, or power
mainstream TV – here, the most typical, normal, conventional and well-known TV channels because they have been there longer and were established before the era of multiplatform television
blatant – something that is done in an open or very obvious way
rip-off – here, a copy of a TV programme from another show that has no original features of its own, and there is no credit given to the original source of the programme
street slang – here, words and phrases that are not found in standard dictionaries and tend to be popular among young people
trailer – a set of short extracts which are shown to advertise a film or TV programme
peak time – here, the most popular time for watching television
onscreen clutter – here, the amount of extra information on a TV screen that has little or nothing to do with the programme shown and is considered not useful or necessary
chunk – a large part of something
ubiquitous – adjective meaning to give the impression of being everywhere
dysfunctional – adjective to describe relationships or behaviour which are different from what is considered to be normal