Louis Theroux calls for “confrontational, surprising & upsetting” TV in MacTaggart Lecture

Louis Theroux

Broadcaster and filmmaker Louis Theroux has called on the TV industry to take more risks during his MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival.

“We need television that is confrontational, surprising, and upsetting. We should aspire to challenge viewers’ assumptions and resist orthodoxy whenever possible,” Theroux told the audience.

“We serve social justice best when we aim to make television that reaches people and engages them. Take risks. Sail close to the wind. Do that thoughtfully and you can do almost anything in television. Expect the highest values from TV as you would from any art form.”

Theroux, whose Tell Them You Love Me was this week picked up by Sky, used his lecture to discuss the existential threat to the industry posed by the rising use of artificial intelligence – and how it is unable to take the same risks as human content creators.

“We find our beloved industry is on the verge of being besieged by robots in the form of deepfakes and AI. Hollywood writers are striking, among other reasons, because of valid concerns over Large Language Models cannibalising and regurgitating their plots and their dialogue, which, let’s be honest, sounds a bit like what some in Hollywood have been doing for years.”

He continued: “I say this not as an expert on AI. But as an expert on humans. We’ve all seen the amazing results AI can produce. In a few years it may be able to write a passable sitcom or action movie. Or a MacTaggart. Maybe an excellent one. Maybe one better than this.

“But what it won’t be able to do is take risks. Because risk involves danger. And there’s no danger for machines. Risk involves real feeling. The possibility of humiliation, embarrassment, failure.”

Theroux explained: “Surveying the mediascape, it is clear those of us who value legacy media and the thousands of wonderful programmes it’s produced in all its years of existence have our work cut out for us. Not just to keep people’s attention and preserve the broadcasters we love. But also, at the risk of sounding alarmist, to hang on to the whole post-Enlightenment project of social progress and the rule of law.

“And so, we face a choice. With so much madness around, it’s tempting to ignore what’s out there. To not amplify it. Hope it goes away. To not platform it. Avoid the risk.

“I think that’s wrong. Hence the theme of my lecture: the risk of not taking risks.”.

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