BitDepth 457 - January 25

TTT, the oldest television station in the country, closed its doors. Sort of.
Thinking through Truly Tense Television

Now that TTT's gone, I have to admit, I'm not feeling the loss. At least part of the reason is that TTT died as a presence for me a long time ago, not quite when TV6 appeared to give it some long overdue competition, but certainly when cable TV became an acceptable option. As a broadcast entity, it was quickly swamped by the media growth and specialisation over the last fifteen years.
I'd like to be able to mourn the loss of a venerable institution with some of the wailing and gnashing of teeth offered by sentimental TTT workers and viewers, but I can't. It's more like seeing a once noble, hardworking thoroughbred led off in its final years, bent and hobbling, to be shot behind the shed by its masters.

And make no mistake, that's exactly what's happened here. By taking NBN to black screens and silence for months to come, the State has chosen to put an end to a broadcast service that existed for decades in a weird business limbo; neither a true state enterprise created to serve governmental and public needs nor a business enterprise with profit as its clear focus.
In that dead zone in which frustration and futility flower, TTT contrived to become the worst of both worlds, a surly civil servant when it's journalism and programming ran up against the inclinations of politicians; all business and revenue when it came to representing local programming in the precious broadcast schedule.

After Independence, when the country groped to find a new, post-colonial identity, TTT happily adopted a familiar old one, donning a paternal, distant manner and clipped, mid-Atlantic accents that sought to meld the BBC with NBC.
The station never really dropped that persona, and with only a few, fondly remembered exceptions, put the people of Trinidad and Tobago on the air only when they had been murdered, were aggrieved or wore their Sunday best to present their stories, songs and skills to the nation.
Amid the murmurings of loss for this station, it's worth remembering that our memories of Rikki Tikki, Scouting for Talent (with its pre-karaoke howlers), Mastana Bahar and Teen Talent never amounted to more than one tenth of a day's broadcast time and the rest of the time we were flooded with utterly forgettable rubbish, the programming that sedated the surging, yearning masses after World War II.

If it were possible to review the many millions of broadcast hours of television that TTT is responsible for, among that miniscule percentage that showed anything other than first world actors, you would find a parallel universe version of Trinidad and Tobago, one in which people were either in terrible straits or were terribly tidy.
But you can't do such a study. TTT had no mandate to be an archivist, so programming was routinely lost, tapes were dubbed over and in the attempted coup of 1990, a pre-tape collection of priceless film was lost to fire. In the end, I suspect, there will be far less would have been held for the country's patrimony in the archives of our first television station than there is in the memories of the hardworking people who made it happen.

The only thing that TTT honestly brought to its audience was Carnival and that was the only thing that really mattered when it was shut down, so the station, stripped down and dubbed NCC-TV (or if you want to be uncharitable, Gayelle's clone) is still lingering on the air, a surreal, all-local echo of its former pompous self.
It might seem puzzling that a television station that treated local drama and performance as if it were a nuisance to be tolerated with grim determination and posed next to flowerpots, should shine so brightly when presented with the unrivalled outburst of creative chaos that is Carnival.
But even here, TTT was in the mas but not of the mas. Its cameras were always a safe distance from the revelry, zooming in on a pretty face here or an eager wine there, recording a show that was increasingly, particularly at the Grandstand, performed on that stage for its benefit.

In the end, TTT was not about its legacy of shoddy programming, thinly veiled contempt for local culture and the Americanisation of our children. It was about the people who kept right on working there, through the over-the-top hegemony of Jimmy Bain, through the horrors of Abu Bakr, through the uncertainty of the last year and a half, right through to the very end.
People like cameraman Anthony Gittens, whose work I have long respected, Burt Hinkson, an invisible hero behind the scenes, and Allyson Hennessy, who would always give me time to shill for an association or group of students I might be working with.

Even the narrow sliver of Trinidad and Tobago that the station broadcast changed lives, launched careers and informed the nation for more than four decades, but I can't help but wonder what might have happened if someone had used that media power more thoughtfully.
It's going to be interesting to see what kind of station takes its place. In a country which now sees the world daily on cable, itself on Gayelle and has access to airwaves saturated with information and ready access to the Internet, TTT's successor will have to do more than simply show up.
Now they're going to have to compete. From scratch. For viewers.
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