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BBC4: a channel on the brink?

We love BBC4 – so much, in fact, that we're worried about it. In recent months, a few warning signs of its ruin have been flashing…

The ‘Britannia’ strand has run out of genres and run out of steam – we’d be surprised if ‘Happy Hardcore Britannia’ was in the works but, even if it was, it could hardly be less pertinent than the recent ‘Trad Jazz Britannia’. Then there’s the old editions of ‘Top of the Pops’ (which have proved only that ‘the good old days’ were, by and large, as desperate as the present), the recycled jazz diva stories and the demographically-tailored documentaries – an hour and a half of Graham Parker, anyone? How about taking some risks? A lively, current, non-PR industry-driven music show would do nicely.

Again, there are hints of a channel taking the path of least resistance, slumping into a comfortable chair and settling for what it’s got. There’s nothing wrong with historical docs, art history docs or archaeology docs. Indeed, they’re very welcome on BBC2. But there used to be more to BBC4 than that. Where’s the lively social history? The rampant eccentricity? The films about A-roads and weeds and youth hostelling? Somewhere, the channel’s distinct voice has been mislaid.

A tricky one, this. BBC4 faced a perfect storm when its budget cuts coincided with the richer-than-Croesus Sky Atlantic deciding it fancied a slice of the Guardian reader demographic pie. But the channel that introduced us to ‘Mad Men’, ‘Curb your Enthusiasm’ and ‘Flight of the Conchords’ is now feeding on scraps. And it’s not taking up the slack with its own commissioning decisions either: the dramas are being phased out. Could shows like that frail, sickly stepchild of a sitcom ‘Up the Women’ be the new norm?

When Richard Klein stepped down as channel controller earlier this year, the Beeb decided not to appoint a new specialist channel boss. Instead, BBC2 controller Janice Hadlow was tasked to run it for the time being, with the suggestion that a junior ‘channel editor’ or ‘channel executive’ might be appointed beneath her. We hope this isn’t as ominous as it sounds – we’d hate to think of one of the jewels in the BBC’s crown being relegated to also-ran status. Come on BBC4. When you’re in a hole, stop digging…

What do you think? Has BBC4 miplaced its mojo? Leave a comment below or send a tweet to @TimeOutTV.