14/01/2013

Why can't the BBC just make Top of the Pops every week again?

It’s a no brainer really. Whatever the delivery mechanism- sheet music, vinyl, cds, downloads, air play etc etc- people consume music and one single/ song/ track must be more popular than all the others. There’s more than enough technology to work out which it is and the order of the pursuing pack as well. So why not have a weekly tv show with a selection of these songs on it, performed in whatever bizarre manner they choose, by the artists? It sounds like the simplest and best idea ever and for decades the BBC did just that with Top of the Pops (hereafter known by its unpronounceable acronym TOTP). Then they stopped.


When it was the most popular, when it worked the best was when the producers chose from the top 30 and varied it with new entries, climbers and at the end the number 1. The acts would mime unless they wanted to sing live which few did. There’d be a rundown of the chart and depending on what decade perhaps a little inane chatter from DJs. Plus there was audience dancing which was part of the charm of the show even though many of the audience seemed to have no sense of rhythm.
It was when they started meddling with this format that audiences began to drift away. They tried to introduce the Album Charts. They’d have a period where they insisted singers sing rather than mime- dogs around the UK covered their floppy ears. Latterly they had some sort of hang out chill out backstage place where celebrities would mingle and try to get their face seen. They had music news (yawn). So the audiences tumbled, the producers made more ridiculous changes and eventually only a million or so people were watching not justifying the cost of making the thing.
In it’s pure format TOTP was the great leveller because everyone was treated the same whether they were a multi million selling legend or a one hit wonder. The only acts curmudgeonly enough to turn the programme down were probably The Clash and Led Zeppelin and in the case of the latter they didn’t release singles anyway. The show was a perfect snapshot of what was popular in any given week. With one or two exceptions, TOTP never flinched from whatever was trending. So when the frankly unlistenable New Wave of British Heavy Metal was rising the studio was packed with heavy metal played slightly quicker than usual. When `baggy` was booming, extraordinarily roomy trousers and shuffle beats dominated. When club music was in the ascendancy it was a female singer and lots of blokes pretending to play keyboards.
Nowadays the BBC trade off the TOTP brand and reputation yet won’t make it properly. They do a Xmas one, a New Year one, they have specials, compilations and even re-run weekly shows from the 70s on BBC4. So why don’t they just admit it’s a simple but great idea and it can’t go wrong if you don’t mess with the format and start making it again?

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