Soft and Strong (and sometimes quite long)

There will be many people watching the final of the last ever ‘Dancing On Ice’ with heavy hearts this coming Sunday, not least the owners of ice rinks and manufacturers of skates. Their industry reports a big boost in interest and attendance whenever the series is on air.

But thankfully some other TV programmes will follow on close behind to encourage us out of our seats, whether it’s Wimbledon or the World Cup.

Physical activity is one thing but what about intellectual stimulation? If you’ve never watched Dara O’Briain use comedy to tackle logic and mathematics in his ‘School of Hard Sums’ why not watch Series 3 which starts tonight (Tuesday March 4th) on Dave, plus catch-up in the usual places.

Professor Brian Cox is apparently responsible for a surge in applications to read Physics at university. But making Physics sexy isn’t the hardest challenge that TV has helped to tackle. Last month The Economist reported that the MTV series ’16 and Pregnant’ helped reduce teenage births in America by 5.7% in the 18 months following its release.

There is an endless list of positive outcomes from TV shows, from changing what we do – buying books, decorating homes, planting vegetables etc. – to changing how we feel. Programmes like ‘The Undateables’ increase empathy towards people suffering from a range of difficulties. ‘Educating Yorkshire’ helps us understand what it takes to be a good teacher. After the television coverage of the 2012 Paralympics, 65% of the UK said that they saw people with disabilities in a new light.

TV offers a wide range of news, current affairs and documentaries to keep the nation informed and to encourage a national debate on many important issues. But, uniquely, it can also treat the most difficult of subjects in a narrative form that takes the debate to the heart of the nation. More than 10 million people watched the recent emotional and brave episode of ‘Coronation Street’, featuring the terminally ill Hayley Cropper and her decision to take her own life, as it was broadcast. Many more have seen it since and the topic was explored thoroughly in all media.

We all take TV’s enormous positive cultural influence for granted. It’s a soft power; it can’t invest in infrastructure or discover new cures or pass laws. But, like water, it can wear away stone.

 

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