Tuesday 7 February 2012

More on Dumbing Down British TV Archaeology

Professor Mick Aston reportedly quit the British TV archaeology 'reality show' after being one of its iconic stars for 19 years after changes which were leading to a dumbing down of its archaeological content. These included changes in the team and what is being presented as a reduction in the archaeological content of the programme. I am sad to see him go, Mick Aston is one of my archaeological heroes, for his landscape archaeology work, and later on his extramural teaching.

The main feature the media coverage has concentrated upon however has been the appointment of a new presenter, Mary-Anne Ochota (Craig) alongside the existing one, TV actor Tony Robinson. While Ms Ochota holds a master’s degree in archaeology and anthropology from Cambridge University, the newspapers seem intent on reminding their readers only that after graduation she did some modelling, including shoots for Special K. Her webpage however gives a slightly more rounded summary of her career, including presenting several other archaeology/anthropology themed TV programmes. The Daily Mail reports:
In an interview with the magazine British Archaeology, Professor Aston said he was responding to changes first proposed by producers at Channel 4 in late 2010 – before the filming of the series that is currently being aired. They included a new presenter to join Tony Robinson and decisions to ‘drop some archaeologists’ and ‘cut down the informative stuff about the archaeology’. [...] He said: ‘The time had come to leave. I never made any money out of it, but a lot of my soul went into it. I feel really, really angry about it. ‘Whatever happened, we’d all thought, we’ll complete the 20th series. It feels very sad that I shan’t do that. I’m not proud of Time Team, it hasn’t worked.’ A former academic at Bristol and Oxford universities, he has worked tirelessly to bring archaeology to a wider audience.
But as we know archaeologists in Britain seem to have lost their abilities or interest in telling a more complex story, which obviously everybody feels you cannot do that these days in Britain without pandering to the lowest possible denominator, a trite story, golden treasures and a cleavage.

To my mind, this is a bad piece of casting. Like it or not, the format of the Time Team programme has been one of the archaeologists doing some good archaeology and the presenter as the embodiment of "everyman" pretending he knows nothing and asking some simple (sometimes utterly moronic) questions. Tony Robinson, though a very nice bloke, is no Adonis and (unless the new series departs from the traditional format) his counterpart should be "Everywoman". Not a highly attractive and articulate Cambridge Arch and Anth graduate pretending not to understand what is going on. But I wish her every success in her new job.

Tamara Cohen, ''What's she got that I haven't?' Veteran quits as Cambridge beauty joins TV's Time Team', Daily Mail 7th Feb 2012

Photos: "Mary-Ann [...] is quickly getting the hang of showing Time Team viewers what they want to see ;-)" (Woody's TV Caps)

UPDATE 9.02.12

Just a fgew hours after the news about Mick Aston quitting: Paul Johnston, 'Time Team presenter Mary-Ann Ochota quits', Yahoo.

UPDATE: See also Mike Pitts' account of the whole affair and the newspaper coverage on his blog "Digging Deeper".


Anonymous said...

"Ms Ochota holds a master’s degree in archaeology and anthropology from Cambridge University"

Which, of course, tells us that she got a BA in arch and anth (which one?) over six years ago and that she has done no graduate-level work in archaeology.

Really, though, I've mostly been hearing about the general disgust at the job announcement that went out to the young female archaeology set. It just about said "you don't have to know much about archaeology as long as you are pretty". Ah well.

Paul Barford said...

Well, I want to know what she thinks about metal detectorists. That's the important thing.

Paul Barford said...

Ochota is a Polish name, it can mean "desire".

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