The archaeology program Time Team, which is a bit of an institution on British TV, is going through some serious reshuffle problems as its producers and director attempt to reinvent it. What began as a way of opening up the show’s remit and explaining the sometimes confusing processes to less enlightened viewers (such as myself) who do not possess an archaeological degree, has turned into a farce.
Now each episode includes approximately 30% more interruptions and a strong desire to produce camera-worthy, rather than history-worthy, content. In my eyes, this is the fault of the program’s higher powers, but many bitter Time Team viewers have been airing their (very strong) views on the official Facebook page and being particularly nasty to the newly drafted in second presenter, Mary-Ann Ochota. They have criticised her presenting style, questioned her archaeological credentials, and blamed her for the change of structure, then she came under even more fire when one of the show’s ever-active professors, Mick Aston, decided to quit. It has been widely claimed that Mick did not like Mary-Ann’s input and he also didn’t appreciate the changes to the format, but I’m sure he would not have wished the extreme backlash that has greeted her. Things really reached boiling point when Mary-Ann commented on the Time Team Facebook page and explained that her role was supposed to be to ‘ask the questions that viewers might be asking’. She ended by revealing, ‘needless to say I’m not coming back for the next series either!’.
I think that Time Team can learn several lessons from this embarrassing turn of events. Firstly, it’s important to consult the audience and find out what they want, whether that’s via a focus group, a survey, or a roadshow. Secondly, if change is going to occur, it needs to take into account the views of stalwarts such as Mick, who has been a part of the show for 19 years, and it should avoid trying to look like it’s replacing the old guard with a whole new group. Instead there should be more interaction between the established figures and the more recent additions to the program, so they can learn from each other and avoid clashes. Thirdly, spending too much time entertaining, with clunky interludes such as going horse racing during the excavation of stables, risks alienating fans. It also detracts from the importance of the archaeology and the processes of excavation and categorising finds, which is surely the whole point of being there. When you try and dumb down a program that is aimed at intelligent viewers, you are not bringing anything to the table (apart from some scarily blunt Facebook comments from said viewers).
Clearly the moral of the story here is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Channel 4 should take note.