Magdeburg l I usually make it a rule that I don’t judge something until I’ve given it a fair chance. I’m not the sort of person who leaves the cinema half way through, or sends food back in a restaurant - I think it’s only fair to make a little bit of an effort and see if my opinion changes as I learn more about whatever I’m experiencing. And I try not to make assumptions about things I’m badly informed about: maybe there really is something enjoyable about skydiving, for instance, or heavy metal music. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”, is the British expression.
But in Germany I’ve had to make an exception to this. I’ve had to concede that I just don’t get German television. At all. Even though, not only do I not own a TV set, I’ve barely ever made it to the end of an episode of anything. Apart from Tatort, obviously. If I don’t watch Tatort, I’m afraid I’ll be deported after Brexit.
So it would certainly be correct to say that I haven’t really given German TV a chance. But there are reasons that I struggle to get to the end of German TV shows, and not just that I’m not really enjoying myself. The main one is this: the shows are insanely long. Insanely, unbearably, interminably long.
Another problem with German TV
The British approach is a little bit “less is more”. Shows tend to last half an hour or an hour. If it’s on the BBC, though, those time periods are effectively somewhat longer than they are elsewhere, because there are no advertising breaks. Which is another problem I have with German TV. I like my TV to be focused - that is, ad-free - and concise. Insanely long German shows, with their insanely many ad breaks, are not so.
I was fairly confident, recently, that Start Up would be a good fit for me: it was obviously modelled on a show I enjoyed in the UK, The Apprentice, which has a simple but amusing formula. A group of ambitious young entrepreneurs are forced to compete against each other doing stupid but amusing business-themed tasks, before several rich, successful people decide which of them most deserves to be publicly humiliated and sent home. What could possibly go wrong, with a formula like that?
Well, I don’t know, maybe you could make each episode three hours long. Three hours! That’s twice as long as a film. And it’s sufficient time, as far as I’m concerned anyway, to make me start thinking in some details about the premise of the show I’m watching. Am I really enjoying this? Is it worth my time? Do I really approve of the way the show depicts business, which is theoretically meant to offer people products and services they actually need, as a shallow exercise concerned only with profit-making? Are all of the contestants not just annoyingly overconfident, but… actually horrible people? Still, at least it's not four hours long, I suppose, like Let's Dance apparently is. That's just madness. I've seen shorter Wagner operas. Do they actually cut these shows? Or are they just everything that they film?
More time to reflect
In the fast-paced, one-hour UK version of The Apprentice, I forget about all the problems I have with the show until it’s over. I’m too caught up in the excitement of who will sell the most hot dogs, or whatever, to care about the deeper questions it raises. But over the course of two hours, peppered with relentless ad breaks, there’s so much more time to reflect. Why am I even watching this - shouldn’t I be watching the news instead? Reading Goethe? Talking to loved ones?
So I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that, despite my not really having got to know German TV as well as I should have done, it’s just not right for me, except as a reminder of how many better things there are to do with my free time. I spend my whole working day staring at a screen, after all - should I really be doing the same thing in the evening?