- People like Joe Zias, Eric Cline, Jim West are getting very concerned about the poor quality of some recent TV screenings. How to deal with it is as real problem, and I enter the discussion as one who might be accused of questionable TV work, but at least someone who understands the motivations of documentary makers. (I recently appeared with Eric Cline in a documentary.) Aren Maeir is basically right, you cannot control the market, but there are some things that could be done to try and improve the quality of documentaries currently being produced.
The idea that there are loads of gifted students working in archaeology etc who could start making quality documentaries is frankly naive. The people making the shoddy programmes are there because they have a certain charisma, presentation skills, experience in film making, and TIME. It can take a year or more to develop a programme, acquire funding, three to four months to research, film, edit and promote a final product. How many academics can afford that time out, or have the necessary skills?
Key to a quality product is the ability of the Director and the integrity of the TV channel backing the project and their commissioning editor, who usually has the final say on the end product. Good documentaries,in the areas of interest, are still being made, by BBC and National Geographic, for example, but it has to be said even their standards have dropped over recent years. Probably through pressure to churn out more product, fill slots, and availability of adequate funding. Less diligent companies are making poor content quality documentaries because they just don't care about truth and integrity, they cut financial corners and are prepared to go with presenters who they don't understand, and who don't understand their subject.
So what can be done? The keys, if there are any, are the documentary director, the integrity of the TV Channel and the presenter in that order of priority. Petitioning these targets with statements that such and such a director, or presenter, has produced poor material and distorts truth will eventually get home and might encourage the use of better quality people.