Documentaries Were Better in the Past.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
The historical documentary is pretty much extinct. The audience isn't there any longer. Contemporary people, especially young people, do not concentrate on very much that isn't communicated in a few sentences. They are not likely to watch TV that is mostly old paintings, prints and photographs. Millennials especially - the great majority anyway - could not care less about anything that happened before the 21st century.

No demand - no supply.
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Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
I'm sure that there are still millions that want to see authentic images made in the past, and know the historical facts behind them. Furthermore I believe that, as people (maybe not the majority, but a lot) grow up , their interest in history will tend to grow. I think the actual problem is the drive of the media to capture the attention of people so that they will watch the programs and therefore will watch the commercials, which are things that actually bring in the money. There also seems to be a belief of those in control of the media (perhaps taking their cue from advertisers) that things have to be "punchy", quite loud, and fast, and full of gimmicks, to get attention. I can understand commercial media organisations having such a policy, they need finance to keep going. What really annoys me is the BBC, it seems to be playing the same game, even though it gets billions of pounds given to it; it is using some commercial practices because, I think, the people running it went to the same media studies schools as those in commercial TV, where the emphasis is, I imagine, on how to capture the attention of the audience.


Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
Many modern docos are crud ! A recent 'innovation' is to consider ad breaks .... 10 min segments ( advert) rehash of the last 10 min segment, a rundown of what the next segment is, then the next segment .... ad break .... a rehash of the last segment ... and so on .

Now the tech .... relevent 'doco tech' is fine ( 3 D imaging, etc ) but do we need all those zoom in and outs, swooshey zooming noises and special effects ... especially when it is some boring middle-aged historian making a minor point ?

or the opposite ; the presenter is a flashy tv personality , he might be an astrophysicist ... but if a segment is shot of people in a speed boat, he will be driving that speedboat ... or abseiling ..... or in the back seat of a fighter jet ... or just looking coy and cute



There was one good modern doco series on recently - some archeology show - it was a sensible panel discussion about that episodes feature, there would be a segment on site and info and footage about that, then back to the panel with some objects from said site for group discussion. Non of the above show tactics and mind numbing 'presentation for general populace' .

And it had Dr Alice Roberts on it :) ... who is NOT AT ALL like Prof Brian Coy ..... I mean, Cox

Dr Alice with a skull;


Dr Alice wearing nice ear rings;


Dr Alice about to go swimming;


Dr Alice 'enjoying' the mountain air ;


yes ... let's keep these of these type of sensible documentaries going !
Oct 2018
Adelaide south Australia
I guess it depends on the documentaries you watch.

If you mean the polemics made by Michael more or the same flavour put out by Louis Theroux, or indeed the vat majority of so-called documentaries on Youtube, yep, no argument here.

However, in recent years we continue to have the wonderful documentaries of David Attenborough. I have also recently watched two terrific series by Ken Burns, one on the Second World War and one on the Vietnam war.

The BBC and our SBS continues to show high quality documentaries. I can think of one exception shown by our main public broadcaster, the ABC, a few years ago. It was called 'Growing Up Gotti', about the family of the late psychotic mafia boss, John Gotti. I wa so annoyed I wrote my first and so far only complaint to a TV station. I was politely told to piss off.

I think that people may get the attended impression that all those reality shows are really a kind of documentary. They ain't.

Like history books, documentaries always present a point of view. With what I would call the more ethical producers, an attempt is made at being objective.


Ad Honorem
Jul 2009

Being objective is a media dead end. Modern media (documentary or news or political commentary) is combative, bombastic and mean. Even entertainment TV programming is take-no-prisoners/win or lose/gut 'em when they are down. Rupert Murdoch has shown what success in media is: overpowering any opposing position, seasoned with T & A. It works and it is profitable - the more outrageous the better.

It doesn't matter if historical documentaries are ethical or objective. No one cares any longer. It doesn't matter if media in any form is responsible. As a journalist acquaintance once said to me, a colleague to whom he reported told him "Forget about what you were taught in journalism school. That was college. This is business."

History documentaries - or any documentaries - are not profitable. Media, whether it is journalism or educational presentation, is entertainment, and it is business.
Mar 2015
I think I must be inhabiting a different universe and maybe I am. I can't help but notice that the negative vibes are coming mostly from down under. Is there a problem with Australian TV?

There were very few documentaries in the past. Some were excellent and some frankly terrible - compare The World at War with Gilegud's longer World War One (boring boring and inaccurate).

There has been an explosion in documentaries and frankly you can take your pick from science, technology, art, architecture, archaeology, geology and yes, straight forward history with SImon Montefiore for example Spain "Blood and Gold" to Sam Willis, "the historian must get involved", the Silk Road - I must read up on the History of Persia (fabulous). There was an excellent documentary on the WW1 development of the aircraft carrier "Captain Jack and Furious Few" which used recently discovered letters and diaries of one the original pioneers - my God you should see the crashes of these incredibly brave and stupid young men. At the other extreme, there was excellent documentary on the building by the Chinese of the world's largest radio telescope and the technology upon which it depends.

I have paid attention to what I have watched over the last two weeks and there was hardly a single night when I there was not a documentary which was interesting, new and informative. I have watched dear Alice (I agree she is over-exposed) but her piece with the included Hadza hunter gatherers of Tanzania was very revealing (not of her!). On the other hand I avoided Brian Cox since I find him irritating and "his deep revelations" pretty trite. Actually the worst thing I watched was a joint British\Australian sponsored programme on the Battle of Amiens with actors taking the part of the main characters (Foch, way too fat, spoke frog English of course). It was stilted, boring and to cap it all very inaccurate - I can sympathise if this the sort of rubbish that is served up in Australia. However, the shear variety was such that I could pick and chose what to watch.

BTW why not use the record button, watch the programme later and fast forward through the adverts?
Mar 2015
Actually I forgot the best documentary this week - Plastic surgery, developed in WW1. Really well done piece of history with Michael Portillo visiting the derelict Military Hospital at Aldershot where a brilliant surgeon, Harold Gilles performed the first plastic surgery. This is not for the squeamish (and I had to look away many times). It was possible to graft small patches of skin but larger ones would contract, die from lack of blood or worse become gangrenous (Gilles first patient died). Gillies was able to take a large patch from the leg or abdomen, transfer it on to the arm and after "growing it on the arm then transfer it onto the poor devil's face - amazing.

Sorry but stuff like this is better than TV documentaries of 30 years ago and its not BBC but a commercial channel - Channel 5.