The default mode of 90s TV was irony. It was incubated in music and youth television, before infecting general light entertainment. Then it attempted a putsch in arts programs:
Matthew Collings’ This Is Modern Art and the follow up Hello Culture were the main spearhead with their knowing voice overs, the refusal to pass judgment, the acceptance that high culture had come to an impasse. The scripts Collings speaks from, like the accompanying books, have no difficult concepts and use short sentences. Few words, little meaning. Collings throws in references to The Situationists or Clement Greenberg, but in a way which suggests ‘hey, don’t worry if you’ve never read them their moment has passed’. The End of History – not just something for policy wonks. In your living room, right now.
There is now a ‘Collings Shrine’ on YouTube, but watching the programs again is a little disappointing. It’s interesting to see him chat with Patrick Heron or Elizabeth Peyton (maybe the only time they’ve ever been on British TV?), and I personally don’t find him irritating as others do, but the lack of insight or challenge is striking now.
There was another way however: