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Why VPRO Mondo is a programme to cherish

In the 1990s, BBC 2 was a reason for me to stay at home. For a while then, it was not about the episodes of Star Trek they kept broadcasting, while Dutch TV tried to shut out any kind of imagination. No, it had to do with The Late Show, a cultural programme. At a quarter past twelve at night, I got a daily dose of level culture talk. Forums with Salman Rushdie, or other celebrities, always topical and nice and slow. 

For years, I wondered why we in the Netherlands, apart from Adriaan van Dis, were unable to make a culture programme that came close to The Late Show. That programme also went through several format changes during its existence, but its DNA remained visible. Even when its music share was taken over by Jools Holland in Later and all kinds of criticism debates were summed up in Late Review. With all those delicious imagery from British critics. . 

Downtrodden gentlemen

In the Netherlands, we mostly had programmes with slumped gentlemen in too low seats, who most of the time seemed interested in how well they could formulate themselves, but fell just short. VPRO - Boeken was broadcast too early in the day and had nothing close to the flair of The Late Show: debates on culture in which people also acted with the necessary vigour and humour. Witteman's classical music programme Podium Witteman is brilliant, but is only about classical music, which I still think is a shame. And Cornald Maas's Volle Zalen cannot escape the image of a fan show.

So now - after three episodes - it is time to do a small, cautious dance of joy that Mondo is being broadcast. A VPRO programme that is an almost direct copy of BBC 2's The Late Show from the 1990s, but with less celebrity. And in widescreen.

Beep and crackle

After the first episode, I was still holding my heart because everything squeaked and creaked. A laborious conversation about boundaries in art, two friends of the producer who once made a house record: it all felt too willed and unnatural. Now, a few episodes on, the schwung is coming in. It's still tricky that art people, like architect Sjoerd Soeters in the last episode, for instance, are often insufferably cocky, or overbearing or super insecure. That does not talk well, whether you are sitting in a lazy sitting area or at an active table.

Of course, another problem is that anyone who follows the media with any love of art is reminded every day of how small our country is art-wise. When a high-profile play comes out, the director or lead actor sits and tells the same story on radio and TV, which he had already had written down in the newspaper before. A new book by Herman Koch delivers the same hackneyed story in all media outlets. Which does not take away from the fact that it is a fantastic book. 

Ungrateful

We have a small world of culture in the Netherlands, with few daily highlights. So it is up to the editors of Mondo the thankless task of not falling into that trap of art PR, and at the same time not always being next to current affairs. With Culture Press, therefore, we also focus more on what is going on behind the facades and in politics, rather than on the predictable highlights. This kind of journalism would not be out of place for the VPRO either.

Seems like a tall order to me, but if VPRO sticks to its disdain for ratings, it could still be something with Mondo. Even with a format from the last century. Just don't tell the station manager.

Just watching, then.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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