Oi Polloi

In Praise of... Late Night T.V.

Published: Fri Feb 22 2019

There's a lot of under-appreciated (and occasionally misunderstood) people, places and inanimate objects out there. With these articles - we like to reset the balance a bit.

For this one, Sam Waller sings the praises of the late-night television dead zone.  

There’s much talk these days of how we’re living in the golden-era of TV, with high-brow actors of the silver screen longing to be locked into seven-season contracts and every episode of every programme ever made now available at a mere touchscreen caress… but amongst all this, the humble art of just sitting down and aimlessly flicking through the channels is much forgotten.

Having recently been flung into fatherhood, I’ve re-discovered the wonderful world of late-night TV, and over the last few weeks have thoroughly enjoyed scouring Freeview at 03:00 in the morning with absolutely zero idea what I’ll be watching for the next hour or so.

In some bizarre twist of scheduling, it seems the only chance to see interesting films on television is to wait until the small hours of the morning. Just last week I happened upon a cracking film called Beautiful Thing which I’d never heard of before.

This was a technicolour tale of gay romance set in the visually potent concrete zone of Thamesmead, complete with stripy Lacoste tees, a soundtrack by Mama Cass and a surprisingly powerful portrayal of single mummery courtesy of that craggy-faced woman from EastEnders who looks a bit like a ghost of Berlin-era David Bowie — and without going overboard, was easily better than 99% of films I’ve been subjected to on Netflix.

There’s also much joy to be had in just catching the end of films with zero context. I’ve got no idea what 21 Grams is about, but I can tell you who dies at the end (and it could be Sean Penn). I’ll also say that although I’ve only seen half an hour of it, Hostel Part III might not be a very good film.

Meanwhile, such positive role models as Walker, Texas Ranger and Ironside can still be found righting wrongs and solving all manner of crimes, and whilst they may look a little outdated, their capers still provide many useful life lessons.

Even though there must surely be enough old sitcoms or crime dramas to go around, Testcards and telesales still reign supreme once you get past around two in the morning, and if you find yourself on BBC2 at the right time you can still be treated to the classic image of a young Carole Hersee and her wide-mouthed puppet pal locked in a tense game of noughts and crosses.

There also seems to be a modern, slicker-looking version of the old rolling Teletext news updates that used to populate the analogue airwaves in the late 90s lingering on ITV at certain times, but with nearly 100 channels to wade through, I don’t usually stick with this one for long.

Obviously you can’t be too picky or proud when it comes to late night television, but as long as you’re fairly rapid with the remote and you make sure you do a thorough lap of all the channels every half an hour to catch the next set of shows, you’re bound to find something at least vaguely of interest.

And if you’re really struggling, you can always make the trek up to channel 89 where you’ll find Now 90s – a seemingly endless Chart Show-esque parade of some very of-their-time music videos from such household names as Aswad and Yazz.

Being able to choose exactly what you want to watch is alright… but how many times have you actually found something decent on those daft online streaming things anyway? Choice is good, but so is mystery, and watching something with absolutely zero knowledge of what it is (or what Roger Ebert thought of it) is a refreshing experience.

“Cancel your Netflix subscription and submit yourself to the whims of the late night television scheduler.”

What with satellite navigation devices, Trip Advisor restaurant reviews and the advent of instantly accessible Wikipedia fact-onslaughts, the element of surprise is sorely missed from most experiences now, but thanks to madcap programming found in the late night dead zone between 01:00 and 05:00, you can once again stumble upon something without any preconceived opinion or smuggery.

Cancel your Netflix subscription and submit yourself to the whims of the late night television scheduler — you might still end up watching a load of rubbish, but at least it won’t be you who picked it.