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The BBC failed Robot Wars and Netflix needs to save it

ON 20 FEBRUARY 1998, when I was nine years old, Robot Wars made its debut on BBC Two.

It was a first of its kind show, pitting at-the-time futuristic-looking metal machines through various tests before placing them in an industrial arena to battle it out head-to-head for robot supremacy. This concept that had me gawping at the TV open-mouthed and, in retrospect, was likely was one of the driving forces that inspired me to become a technology journalist.

20 (ugh) years and 10 seasons of Robot Wars later and I haven’t missed an episode, from the glory days of Hypnodisc vs Chaos 2 (above) to the last year’s destructive final between INQ-favourite Carbide and now-champion Eruption. 

This is why, in the words of our own Chris Merriman, I’m angry. Really f*cking angry.

Despite building up a loyal fan base – a huge number of which were children who saw the show as a much-needed inspiration to study, and ultimately work towards a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) – the BBC last month announced that it had decided to axe Robot Wars for the second time. 

In a statement, the broadcaster said the show’s Sunday slot had been cancelled “in order to make room for newer programming.” Yes, the BBC needs to axe Robot Wars despite continuing to show approximately 18 different auction-based shows each day. We can only assume that the broadcaster is using this free slot to cook up yet another show during which we’ll see an elderly man mourn making just £2 profit on a spoon at auction.

Admittedly, viewing figures were less than stellar, with figures posted to Reddit claiming that episode one of the latest series had 0.9 million live viewers, which rose to 1.33 million for the seven-day consolidated, making it at the BBC’s 23rd most-watched program that week – on par with, sigh, Flog It.

However, these figures are down on the million-plus live viewers recorded when Robot Wars was shown at 7pm. For some reason, the BBC decided to shift it back to 8pm – pitting the largely-unpromoted show up against Blue Planet II, a heavily-marketed programme watched by millions each week.  

The BBC has long been a vocal advocate of STEM and has moved to encourage both children and women to study, and apply for jobs in engineering, even claiming that its own BBC micro:bit computer has fuelled the number of kids planning to study ICT and Computer Science subjects in school.

One Robot Wars fan wrote on Twitter after the BBC announced plans to cancel the show: “This is a real disappointment, to the many fans to us roboteers and to the team behind the show. It’s a show that encourages STEM involvement and is the starting point for many an engineer of the future. I’ve got no words other than expressing just how much of a mistake this is.”

Another added: “I think the @BBC is really undervaluing the outreach to young engineers @UKRobotWars brings. Yet another poor decision from the corporation that is struggling to understand how it fits in modern media.”

By cancelling Robot Wars, the BBC has done a disservice to those who saw the show as an inspiration to get into engineering. Not just kids, either, as while the programme showcased many young robot-makers – with Michael Oates, a 19-year-old engineering student, crowned the winner of season 10 – it also gave a platform to women, different ethnicities and people suffering from physical, or mental disabilities.  

It’s also done a disservice to people like me, who saw Robot Wars as one of the only terrestrial TV shows that appealed to me and my admittedly nerdy tastes. 

Now, we can only hope that Robot Wars will be picked up by a new broadcaster – or even better, a streaming service – that will give it the attention it deserves. 

So, Netflix, I beg you. Please save Robot Wars. Give the once-iconic show a much-needed upgrade. Bring the show to a new generation of young people. Let us finally binge a series. Get rid of ‘Fog of War’, ‘cos that was rubbish. And, I beg you, please bring back Craig Charles. µ

Source : Inquirer

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