So how are you enjoying Amazon Prime’s Expats? Oh. Right. Okay. What about Criminal Record? Come on, it’s on Apple TV+: dodgy detective drama with Peter Capaldi and Cush Jumbo. No? You must be one of the seven people still persevering with True Detective: Night Country, then.
Of course you haven’t had time for the lavish, big-budget likes of the above because, like everyone you know, you’ve been far too busy with terrestrial TV this year. The Traitors, obviously. Playing catch-up with Mr Bates vs the Post Office when you turned up at work on 2 Jan to discover that nobody — not your colleagues, not the newspapers, not Parliament — was talking about anything else. Now you are getting primed for Jed Mercurio’s upcoming Covid drama Breathtaking on ITV, which looks set to do the same.
Because they don’t star household name Hollywooders, neither of these were on any of those ‘most anticipated TV shows of 2024’ lists. But more fool those ‘most anticipated shows of 2024’ lists because, so far, 2024 is the year we all fell back in love with terrestrial TV. And what a joyous state of affairs this is. ‘Terrestrial’ is a not an especially appealing word, so let us instead refer to it as what it is, which is boutique TV. TV that is the equivalent of buying flowers from a cute little market stall rather than in a supermarket. TV that has got to know us over years rather than by meticulously analysing our viewing habits.
There is not an algorithm in the land that would, instead of ‘sex + intrigue + murder + preferably written by Harlan Coben’, spew out ‘You know what people will want on New Year’s Day when they’re all hungover? A nice, grey drama about a malfunctioning computer system in a village Post Office.’ The big streamers have clearly noticed this trend — and probably noticed that expensively signing up an enormo-star for a 10-hour show doesn’t translate into cultural capital — and are switching up the way they do things in lots of ways.
If, like me, you are a regular doer-of-the-hoovering in front of a middling Amazon Prime drama, you will probably have noticed that, as of the past week, Amazon Prime has been showing adverts. Unless you fancy stumping up an extra few pounds a month for a premium, commercial-free experience (yeah, right), these adverts are here to stay: allowing Amazon ‘to continue investing in compelling content and keep increasing that investment over a long period of time’ without having to dip in to the caviar and McDonald’s catering fund for its owner’s 60th birthday bashes. Netflix, too, is getting in on the ad revenue game. It has just done a $500 million a year deal with WWE — or Total Knock Out as it is now known — that will be the first time it has broadcast specific-time live shows with commercial breaks.
Which, rather than the everything-everywhere-all-at-once initial vision of streaming, does sound a lot like good ol’ fashioned Saturday night terrestrial TV, does it not?