chapter  7
Extreme television: flashing lights and freak shows
Pages 17

J ust as health and safety departments have contrived to take the risk out of work andpublic places, so television has had to become increasingly careful not to upset itsaudiences with unexpected scenes or effects. Stroboscopic lighting may cause epileptic attacks, and sexual activity or bad language may offend vocal minorities, so these things are carefully flagged in the programme introductions. Channel 4 even experimented for a while with a little on-screen icon indicating explicit content, but withdrew it in the face of widespread ridicule. In fact, as mentioned in the previous chapter, any producer with challenging content, and keen to have maximum impact, is glad to have what is dismissively referred to as a ‘public health warning’ before their programme. It attracts more viewers than it loses, adding a frisson of dangerous promise that helps a programme stand out in the sea of less distinct competition. The other powerful marketing tool is the programme title. Out have gone the clever titles and subtle doubles entendres of the past, in have come titles which explicitly say ‘what’s in the tin’. By 2007, the single most attractive word to set a prospective audience’s heart racing was apparently ‘extreme’. On Sunday 23 September 2007, the multichannel satellite broadcaster Sky listed 106 programmes on its UK channels that day carrying the word ‘extreme’ in their title, from Extreme Hollywood and Extreme Skinny Celebrities to Ray Mears’ Extreme Survival and Jeremy Clarkson’s Extreme Machines.1