Pete Cashmore: The BBC are repeating the same mistakes
A couple of things, each significant in its own way, happened at the BBC last month.
And, for once, neither of them involved tawdry, unedifying tales of horrific 1970s misconduct.
Firstly, Dawn French hinted that The Vicar Of Dibley could be returning to our TV screens. And secondly, BBC3 was shut down as a televisual concern, reverting to an online-only affair.
Now, I have no great affinity with BBC3. It is responsible for some of the worst televisual howlers of recent teams, with a roll of dishonour that includes Snog Marry Avoid?, Little Miss Jocelyn, Sun Sex And Suspicious Parents, Hotter Than My Daughter, Some Girls, and Tittybangbang, surely the worst sketch show ever rolled out under the dubious banner of comedy.
If you're not familiar with any of these programmes, then I congratulate you and am happy to say that you weren't missing much.
However, what BBC3 did offer was a viable alternative to the two main BBC channels – much of its programming was edgy and innovative. It gave us shows like Little Britain, Nighty Night, Him & Her and Bad Education, shows that had a bit of darkness and shock-of-the-new.
More crucially, it provided a platform for Family Guy and American Dad, the two most sacred cow-slaughtering, not to mention downright hilarious, shows on television.
Well, that's all gone now, with Family Guy off to ITV2, who have already started crowing about their coup in trailer adverts featuring a bespoke turn from the show's Quagmire. They're clearly very pleased with themselves, and indeed they should be.
So we won't have Family Guy on the BBC any more but we will have The Vicar Of Dibley. As far as trades go, this is very much of the 'lost a tenner and found 5p' variety. Dibley was / is everything bad about the modern British sitcom – safe, mumsy, stuffed with risible, thoroughly unbelievable characters and really not very funny at all. And it's not the only 'classic' getting reheated and served up as fresh – Are You Being Served?, the department store sitcom that started before this middle-aged writer was even born, is to be reanimated with a cast to make you shudder.
They're even bringing back Michael Crawford for another hurrah in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em – admittedly it's only for a Sport Relief special but I'm willing to bet my bottom dollar that the following conversation will come later:
BBC executive #1: That Some Mothers... special went very well.
BBC executive #2: It did. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
BBC executive #1: Bring back Frank Spencer for a series?
BBC executive #2: BRING BACK FRANK SPENCER FOR A SERIES!
The BBC is becoming like a serpent eating its own tail, and nothing is beneath its seemingly endless recycling drive. The Great British Bake Off, we can all agree, is a bit of a sensation, but did we really need to apply the format to sewing and pottery as well, via The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throw Down, which is simultaneously a bad idea, a terrible name and grammatically incorrect? When we are told about programmes like this, am I alone in thinking: These guys just are not trying any more, they're just working their way through home-crafts one at a time? What comes next, a show based around competitive varnishing or basket-weaving?
Since I seem to be in a questioning mood, let's ask why we need The Voice in a world where The X Factor exists. Let's ask what the difference between Masterchef and The Great British Menu is, because I can't see it. Let's ponder how many antiques-related programmes one broadcaster can possibly make. And how many cookery shows. And what the human tolerance level is for Len Goodman.
The BBC is simultaneously wet left-leaning and small C conservative – scared of taking risks, cowed by the possibility of causing offence, beaten into lily-liveredness by political correctness. A perfect example of this is the new, absurdly swollen, pathologically box-ticking Top Gear presenters' line-up, a front-of-house mob assembled by committee. Top Gear airs on BBC2, the same channel where you won't see Frankie Boyle, one of our best, most savage stand-ups, on cuddly panel shows any more.
The channel also recently appointed Match Of The Day 2's Dan Walker as the new anchorman of BBC Breakfast News, leading many to remark that a creationist, which Mr Walker is, seems a strange choice as a news show host.
Which brings us to the question: What, exactly, are we paying our TV licence fees for, in 2016? Because if it's soggy political correctness, repetition, lazy formatting, downright copycatting and dead horse-flogging exercises like Strictly: It Takes Two, then I think I would be of a mind to withdraw my funding.
Of course, the BBC gave us The Blue Planet, it gave us Pointless, Luther, the work of Louis Theroux. But these feel increasingly like the exceptions that emphatically prove the rule. They shine a harsh spotlight on all that mediocrity and fluff.
There's a certain irony that the one demographic that is waived of the requirement to pay the TV licence fee, the over-75s, is the only one to whom BBC1 and BBC2's creakily familiar output would appeal. For the internet generation, there's just no impetus to stump up the £145.50. Except there is, because the BBC has just last week announced plans to treat iPlayer use in the same way as TV use.
Meaning you could get fined for watching iPlayer on your laptop, without a TV licence.
A licence to watch TV on your laptop. Well, I think we've now reached that point where we have to say: Enough is enough. If the BBC is a quality broadcaster, then it's time to prove it, stand on its own two feet, and stop holding TV owners to ransom while it seemingly lives by a quality code of 'Will this do?'
At the time of writing, it has just been revealed that Neil Morrissey is keen to bring back Men Behaving Badly. Don't you even dare, BBC.