Christmas is a time of tradition, and nowhere is that more apparent than on BBC One. The channel has just announced its Christmas Day line-up, and it has a distinct ring of familiarity to it. The big shows this year will be Strictly Come Dancing, Mrs Brown’s Boys, Call the Midwife and EastEnders. Just like last year. And the year before. And the year before that. And the year before that and the year before that.
This will be the sixth year running where Strictly, Midwife and Brown’s Boys have aired in the same slots.Even the “new” shows aren’t particularly new. There’s the Gavin and Stacey special, which doesn’t count as new because it’s a revival of a sitcom that has been dead for a decade. And The Snail and the Whale, which doesn’t count as new either because it’s the millionth Julia Donaldson book to be adapted.
You can feel the BBC’s pain. There was a time when Christmas television was part of the household ritual; it was something you would switch on after lunch and keep on in the background while your drunken game of Monopoly descended into violence. It was something you could fall asleep to, before waking up to the harrowing screams of whatever graphic murder was taking place on EastEnders that year.
But people aren’t watching traditional Christmas Day TV any more. Last year Call the Midwife was watched by 5.5 million people, down almost a million from the year before. Strictly dropped by the same amount. The number of people who watched EastEnders dropped by well over a million.
This could be down to the sheer amount of choice that is now available: why on earth would anyone choose to sit through a dull, old, by-the-numbers sitcom special when they could stream a new film, or watch The Crown, or catch up on any number of other shows?
But it could also be down to boredom. If BBC One isn’t going to bother to give us anything new, then why should we try and watch? Even if this is the last gasp of broadcast TV, shouldn’t the BBC go down fighting? If we’re going to have a Christmas special of anything, couldn’t it at least be something current? Maybe a nice festive Line of Duty where Ted Hastings is secretly outed as Santa? Wouldn’t that be nice? In truth, any new ideas at all would be nice. Christmas television has stagnated, and now it’s do or die. There is a real danger that, if the BBC doesn’t bring in something fresh for 2020, the tradition will die on its feet.