Last update on November 14, 2019

British blogger Graham Jackson explores the world of Dutch television, finding native diamonds among the imported rough.

Dutch television sure takes some adjusting to. I recall that, after my first encounter with a Paul De Leeuw extravaganza, I returned home to England wondering how on earth anything on TV there could possibly be considered extreme. The likes of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross pale in comparison to this man. And he’s on before 9pm! No such thing as a watershed here.

Although De Leeuw’s output isn’t exactly my kind of show, it’s clear why he’s well loved. He’s intelligent, funny and willing to send himself up as much as he does others; his shows are easy and refreshingly unpretentious. Love or loathe the man, he’s a natural entertainer and a national institution, constantly pushing the boundaries of acceptability and mostly getting away with it.

The Dutch TV selection

In theory, Dutch TV should be easy viewing for the English speaker, as the listings are filled with US and UK imports. Sadly, it’s mostly a slough of imported rubbish. Scrolling down the schedules, I see bottom-of-the-barrel output like The Dukes of Hazzard, As the World Turns, CSI, Gordon Ramsay and every English housing programme ever conceived. What happened to The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Criminal Justice and Arrested Development? Nederland 3 recently aired the first season of Mad Men but, just like in England, it is tucked so far away that it will only ever have  a minority audience.

Despite my free access to BBC 1 and 2, the options available to me are no better, as the Beeb has long since lost its way. David Attenborough aside, the BBC only occasionally produces anything of great quality now.

There are alternatives – television is widely available online and DVD box-sets are cheap – but when I get in from work, sometimes I simply want to switch on and switch off.

High quality production

Sift through the junk, however – there’s a lot of Dutch produced rubbish too – and a handful of Dutch TV jewels can be found. NOS Studio Sport provides exceptional sports coverage with insightful discussion and analysis. Its high quality yet unfussy production makes a refreshing change to the excesses of the British and American equivalents. Sports are more evenly covered too; there is none of the English football bias.

Watching TV

Maybe that’s the difference between the two nations: TV producers here still treat their audience with respect and credit them with a brain; still address the requirements of public service broadcasting. I’m led to believe this because interview and discussion are still seen as socially relevant genres on television here, with Pauw & Witteman and Wintergasten leading the way.

Other programmes worth watching were the two documentary series Andere Tijden and Van Moskou Tot Magadan, political quiz show Dit Was Het Nieuws, alternative travel journal 3 Op Reis and detective reality show Wie Is De Mol? On the light entertainment front, De Llamas, Ik Hou Van Holland and Boer Zoekt Vrouw are watchable, if only to understand the Dutch character a little more.

Constraints of the television medium

But, so far, the standout show for me has been Raoul Heertje’s Heerlijk, Eerlijk Heertje. Primarily an interview and discussion show, the programme’s originality stems from its exploration of the conventions, construction and constraints of the television medium. Two editions are aired every week. The first is a behind the scenes documentary of the preparation for the actual show: finding guests, production team meeting, clips of the interviews and Heertje’s candid reflections and frustrations in attempting to produce something worthwhile.

The second programme, shown the following evening, presents the interviews in their entirety. Admittedly, this might not be for everyone but, as an avid media fan, I found that its deconstruction of the TV format engaged me for the duration of its run.

Graham Jackson

British expat Graham Jackson has lived in the Netherlands since  February 2008. A budding writer, he has a passion for music, film and literature.