Why are all the good TV programmes on at the same time? Nine o'clock in the evening, usually. It's the height of peak viewing, the moment when all the mainstream channels rise to a televisual crescendo. At nine o'clock there's no scheduled news bulletin to get in the way, just a clear 60 minute slot ready to be filled with top notch entertainment. Eight o'clock can be almost as busy, and ten o'clock too, all equally susceptible to prime-time pile-up. You wait ages for a decent bit of must-see TV, and then three programmes turn up at once.
Last night, for example, the first series of Gavin and Stacey (exquisite comedy, BBC2, 10pm) kicked off at precisely the same time as the first series of Skins (unexpectedly hip, C4, 10pm). Both big hits on digital, but both launched simultaneously on terrestrial, presumably to annoy new viewers. And it's a similar mess tonight at 9pm, when I'll be torn between the latest episode of Heroes on BBC2, Big Brother on C4 and The Secret Life of the Motorway on BBC4. You might prefer the Diana documentary on ITV or even the Anglo-German football match on BBC1. Scheduling trauma, I'm sure you agree.
Now I know what you're saying. You're saying "watch it later on your BBC iPlayer". But only one of those programmes will be available on demand via the iPlayer. You're saying "get yourself a Sky+ box". I don't have one, neither am I allowed one. You're saying "get yourself a generic hard-disc-based recording system instead, then". I don't have one of those either, thanks. You're saying "just use your video recorder for heavens sake". But video recorders (and most digital TV recorders) can't cope with recording two channels at the same time while I watch another. Three simultaneous must-see programmes just doesn't compute. And who wants a hard drive full of 40 hours of programmes I'll never get round to watching anyway?
But there is a way to watch all of these programmes live, straight off the telly, because most TV channels have started showing most programmes twice. If you don't catch Heroes at 9pm on Wednesday, it's on again at 11:20pm on Thursday and yet again at 11:15pm next Sunday. Tonight's Big Brother will be repeated over breakfast tomorrow. The BBC4 motorway documentary is screened again at 11pm and 3am. And if you missed any of the latest Doctor Who episodes during the spring they're all being repeated ad nauseaum at teatime on BBC3, probably for the rest of eternity. But it's a bit complicated, isn't it? Without a copy of the Radio Times you'd probably never spot some of the more obscurely timed repeat showings. So they might as well not exist.
Which is why I'm unexpectedly impressed by the new channel from the C4 stable, Channel4+1. It's just exactly the same programmes as on Channel4, but an hour later. No new content whatsoever, just a 60 minute timeshift. Sounds pants, doesn't it? A shameless imitation of existing channels E4+1 and Film4+1. But, actually, Channel4+1 could be really useful. Switched on C4 in the middle of your favourite programme? Never mind, it'll be on again soon on the new channel. Can't remember whether Big Brother's on at 9 or 10? It's definitely on at 10, on one channel or the other. And that problem I mentioned earlier where far too many good programmes are being screened at the same time. No longer a problem, just watch (or record) the C4 programme one hour later. Simultaneous screengasm could be a thing of the past.
Who'd have thought it? Channel4+1 (and all those other +1 channels) aren't a complete waste of the broadcasting spectrum after all. Not when the alternatives are endless R&B music videos or yet more shopping channels. And missing all your favourite programmes. Although, if it proves too popular, I can see there may eventually be a need for Channel4+1+1. I bet some executive's already got plans in the pipeline for that.