In concrete terms, Ms. Schlesinger: what needs to change at ARD

The next time Maischberger, Plasberg and Will go on a break, I really hope that the program management in Munich will have the presence of mind to put a new talk format on the station as a holiday replacement, which has kindly already been published by the “Zeit” was piloted: “Schlesinger versus Söder”. In the dispute (subscription text), the ARD director and the part-time Bavarian Prime Minister acting journalism expert demonstrated the potential of such a constellation (DWDL.de reported).


This is also due to Schlesinger’s quick wit and the undisputed core competence of verbally polishing the media she is responsible for or represented in interviews to such an extent that one cannot help but agree with her. (Even if that often misses the broadcast reality by a large margin; the RBB is daily proof of this.)

In any case, Söder had obviously underestimated this ability when agreeing to the interview and had to admit in between: “Bravely defended, Ms. Intendant.”

Praying down popular classic demands

But when his interlocutor then also cunningly demanded to name in which places exactly Söder recently noticed the one-sidedness he claimed in the program to the detriment of the middle-class party spectrum (“[W]ground yourself in concrete terms: What exactly bothers you?”), It was over. Söder answered evasively, even the “Zeit” journalists felt compelled to take stock of the interim balance: “Apparently we don’t get the allegations from you more specifically.” It could be because Söder – as he finally admitted – “generally sees more BR than Das Erste”.

It was quite an entertaining exchange of blows, and unfortunately it got lost a bit as the answer to the question written about it is: “What has to change at ARD?”

Söder’s position could probably be summed up as: more pleasant reporting on the Union and fewer entertainment shows. Unfortunately, the reciting of popular classic demands from the conservative milieu on ARD and ZDF meant that he unfortunately failed to come up with a number of valid arguments in the dispute with Schlesinger. In fact, there would be. And although nothing would be further from my mind than getting bogged down with the Bavarian prime minister, it would be nice if some of them played a role in the discussion about the reformulation of the broadcasting mandate.

Because even as a supporter of public service broadcasting, there are a number of things that can be listed that can bother you about ARD. That’s why, Mrs Schlesinger, let’s be more specific.

1. Stuck in the program scheme

The fact that ARD editor-in-chief Oliver Köhr, after five weeks of intensive reporting on the Ukraine war, declared a kind of special program moratorium at the weekend, because viewers would otherwise feel overwhelmed by the wealth of information, was perhaps not an ideal moment for this statement – in short before the atrocities at Butscha became known on Sunday and after the “Tagesschau” (quite rightly) a “focal point” was running again. Köhr’s statement also demonstrates how little substance such a statement currently has.

Of course you can say: Well, we’ve reported quite a lot, now something else has to happen again – for example, like the day after in the first, when the whole world was talking about the consequences of Butscha: a film about sharks.

But it is amazing how great the longing within the ARD seems to be to return as quickly as possible to the programming scheme that has been tried and tested for decades, which is obviously immune to the current “time change” – instead of fundamentally debating whether the quarter hour of prime time news with spontaneously ordered appendage still does justice to the self-proclaimed demand for information.

Schlesinger would probably point out that the “Tagesschau” on Monday evening referred to a special broadcast on Tagesschau24 that ran immediately afterwards. But if the same reports and the same correspondent’s statement are running there again – at least with an additional analytical classification of the pictures from the Ukraine – then I feel that my strong need for additional classification is only taken moderately seriously.

It seems to me that the main problem is that the ARD is well aware of the need for fundamental reforms, which must not spare its own programming – but that everyone is waiting for someone else to start doing it.

2. Lack of momentum for conversation

In entertainment, which is viewed particularly critically by parts of politics and rightly defended by ARD, this reluctance to reform is particularly drastic. The start of Barbara Schöneberger as the new moderator of “Do you understand fun?” a week ago was an impressive reminder of it. With unmistakable enthusiasm for the big performance, the newcomer intoned “This is the greatest show” while dancing at the beginning of the show, without her audience being able to hear her due to sound problems lasting several minutes. When the sound came on again, the show (“Do you understand that it’s fun? – Now we’re stepping on the gas!”) slammed on the brakes to celebrate its own past, until after almost 30 minutes the first real prank with the hidden camera ran.


© SWR / Patricia Neligan
Started at high speed and slammed on the brakes: “Do you understand fun?” with Barbara Schoeneberger.

Schöneberger then bravely moderated a show that could probably have been done in a similar way thirty years ago – with films about cutlery that was too short for a snack in the ski hut, alleged fines for driving too slowly on the slopes and bakery customers who, instead of a only got an eighth of half a Streuseltaler, but the tartar sauce on top of the lunch roll – just that today’s successful “Instagram twins” can be used as decoys for something like that.

The whole show (TV review from DWDL.de) was so stuffy and dull that it is really only rarely seen on television in 2022 – but with over 4 million viewers it was also extremely successful. Among the young audience, the first recorded a market share that evening that almost reached “The Masked Singer” on ProSieben.

And that’s exactly the problem: because this success within the ARD is understood as confirmation that we can continue as before. The audience appreciates it.

Delicious, this lynch-ready village mob

“Murder with a view” is – if we take Schlesinger’s definition of entertainment as a “distraction from existential distress” a little further – a similarly sad example: after a long break, the successful series returned to the program in March with new episodes – obviously without having previously joined the to ask the main cast at the time whether they would like to continue. Instead, the three roles central to the series were filled with new characters (or actors), but in precisely defined the same constellation as before: a city commissioner is ordered to the Eifel to take care of the clarification of murders that suddenly occur in abundance with the help of a slightly naïve but lovable team, while the village views her commitment with great skepticism (TV criticism at DWDL .de).

No one dared to tell Hengasch again from scratch. Although it would have been obvious, for example, to treat the great Petra Kleinert as the bustling police officer’s wife Heike Schäffer (or as she is called on daserste.de: “Heike Schäfer”) to a spin-off with her in the leading role as Miss Marple, because she has always liked to conduct investigations on her own and is also well connected in the village. So now you’re giving the audience the same story in green, just a lot less pointed.

In the new edition, the former main characters are not only buried undignified in a subordinate clause (Dietmar Schäffer died due to a failure of his colleague Bärbel Schmied at the traffic control, who then quit the service). The charming quirkiness of the villagers has meanwhile turned into a completely exaggerated flitzyness, in which the beer crate competition and the annual “cake crown” are more important than anything else.

The clan is lucky that their former victims of bullying do not, as planned, take revenge on all of Hengasch’s offspring into the afterlife, and in case of doubt, the bunch, armed with rakes, pitchforks and shotguns, set off to lynch those who are obsessed with superstition don’t want to fit into the community (as in the episode “Hackestüpp”, which was certainly meant to be original and went sensationally wrong).

The odds are still too good for courage

“What do you want here?” Inspector Marie Gabler calls out to the mob, whom she has to hold back from the storm with a warning shot. “You know that very well: the monster!” And anyone who still thinks they are well entertained at this moment and does not feel reminded of torchlight processions in front of the private apartments of representatives of the people, whose Corona policy does not suit some, may have already seen too many ARD smiley thrillers.

Murder with a chance
© ARD/Frank Dicks
Armed and ready to be lynched? Hengasch didn’t deserve that.

As a precaution, the first keeps to itself where exactly the creativity went during the “seven-year creative break” of the series. Because the new edition of “Murder with a View” is – like many decisions in the entertaining genres of ARD – primarily driven by not expecting too many innovations from the audience, so as not to irritate them.

In this way, a couple of good ratings successes can be achieved – but no new impulses that the station network urgently needs.

The last episode of the season for the time being will be shown on Tuesday evening, in which Gabler’s announced withdrawal (like its predecessor) will of course be canceled at the last second. In view of the good odds, a sequel should have been a thing for a long time. The fact that around a million “Murder with a View” fans have gone missing since the start last week will hardly be seen as a vote of no confidence by those responsible, but as a natural loss. After all, the numbers are far too good for that.

Which sometimes aptly describes the problem of the ARD as a whole and the resulting discouragement. Concrete enough, Ms. Schlesinger?

And with that: back to Cologne.

“Murder with a chance” and “Do you understand fun?” are available in the ARD media library.

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