Four years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I was crying in a London restaurant, watching a TV and seeing America’s first black American President head for the White House.
It felt good to be a part of history. Not just good. I was brimming with overwhelming joy. To see changes in our society that just a few decades ago would have been unthinkable was something that could not help but move you.
I thought back to my primary school days, when a boy called Raymond, who obviously had learning difficulties, was (even to my young and inexperienced mind) racially abused. He went on to do time for murder and, while I recognise mental disorder, I wonder how much of his disturbed adult life might have been averted had his learning disability been recognised and treated and, even more significantly, if he had not been black.
High on Obama fever, I went to live in Los Angeles, where I stayed for two and a half years. The venom I heard poured on Obama horrified me and disgusted me. “Whadderyer think o’ the urban?” I was asked, through barely disguised contempt. Most of the comments I heard are unprintable.
The ignorance of so many Americans, who blindly go where evangelical religion leads them, to the extinction of all rational thought and humanity, stunned me. While ignorance is just as capable of breeding and being fostered on this side of the Atlantic, I believe that it is our history and the lessons we learn (or are forced to re-evaluate) from it that enables us to examine ourselves very differently from our neighbours across the pond.
It is that ability, coupled with extraordinary broadcasting abilities that, for me, made ITV’s coverage of the US election one of the greatest pieces of television, let alone news, I have ever witnessed.
I have been a TV critic for over 25 years and regularly watch between 80 and 100 hours a week. In over two decades, nowhere has there been as great a change as in news. When Sky launched its 24 hour news channel in 1989, it was revolutionary. I was addicted. I watched the entire OJ Simpson and Louise Woodward trials, gasping when the verdicts were announced as loudly as I might when watching a drama killing off a key character.
Now, 24 hours news is everywhere, and we have Twitter, which delivers news even faster than even TV can. I learn about celebrities’ deaths through Twitter, I Tweet throughout all TV programmes (via Zeebox), sharing thoughts and ideas with others. The irony is that in an age when we are able to record and catch up on just about anything and everything on TV, it is still the shared experience that we most enjoy. For all the joys of the boxed set era, there is still nothing quite like our relationship with the immediacy of the literal boxed set in our living rooms.
What ITV did spectacularly last night and throughout this morning was take news coverage to a whole new level. The studio-based discussions and interviews, led by a breathtakingly energetic Alastair Stewart, made complex political analysis accessible to all, without resorting to dumbing down. Alastair made personalities and mini-dramas of every single situation and interviewee – even the dullest. No, it’s not often that you hear the word “parsimonious” at 2.30am, and the banter about such matters, through Alastair’s linguistic fencing, while still keeping a tight rein on the matter in hand, was awesome (as the Americans would say) to behold.
Quite what the BBC was up to is anybody’s guess. At no point, apart from post 4.30am did they even have the right numbers of total seats won on the screen. While ITV cut to the US each time a key result was announced, the BBC panel, hosted by David Dimbleby, was engaged in yet another sleepy, repetitive discussion.
Meanwhile, on ITV, direct from the US, pieces of carpet were being laid on ice to show which states were going to which party; there were towers keeping us up to date with the numbers of states falling to red or blue; there were people. Yes, people! ITV recognised that this was an election about people, and we heard from them. Women. Hispanics. Blacks. Gays. Voters!
Alastair Stewart was the brilliant ringmaster throughout, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself. I was at home watching from my bed but ITV made me feel as if I was a guest at the biggest party on Earth.
As I did four years ago, I cried again, because today, the world is a better place for the decision that America made. And British television continues to be a better place for the sublime talent we witnessed on ITV last night.
The US has its own Stewie in Family Guy.
For me, there’s only one Stewie, and gosh, has he earned his sleep.