FT Ends After 27 Years: Is Fashion Television A Thing Of The Past?

Today marks the air date of the final original episode of Fashion Television, the Canadian program that has been a pioneer of the fashion and style genre for the past 27 years. Earlier this month the show’s host and national industry icon Jeanne Beker broke the news via her twitter account with the grim announcement:

So surreal. This dream is over: After 27 glorious years, FT production ceased today.

Back in 2010, we rung in the show’s 25th anniversary with a breakdown of some of Beker’s career highlights, including meeting kid designer Marc Jacobs back in 1986 and sharing an intimate dinner away from the cameras with Alexander McQueen. Our pronouncement that she showed “no sign of stopping any time soon” now seems rather bleak, don’t you think?

Growing up as a fashion-obsessed Canadian, I was raised on a steady diet of FT (from birth, I suppose, since the program is older than I am.) Especially memorable were Beker’s cheery but assertive interviews – one favorite, with The Police’s Andy Summers, was conducted in a bathtub.

In a piece for the Toronto Star, Beker explains her initial ambitions for the show when she took the helm in 1985:

We could take fashion TV beyond slick, superficial voyeurism and instead explore characters and creative processes…It’s difficult to fathom, now that fashion has become a media circus, but in those first years, we were one of just two camera crews backstage at runway shows.

The other belonged to Videofashion, the New York-based company that has been producing and distributing fashion programming since 1976. FT, while one of the oldest and most recognizable shows in the genre, is not the only player in the game. The program’s fate, however, raises questions about the future for the rest of its kind, as more and more people look to the web for its unique ability to provide up-to-the-minute fashion news and insider access.

Television today is up against a younger, speedier breed of online content producers, who need not worry about the time, costs, and labor needed to produce full-length programs ready for broadcast. While television producers need to think about things like equipment, voice-overs, commercial breaks, and adapting programs to different technical specifications, web producers can upload a video after a few quick edits on a laptop. There is, of course, a pretty wide quality gap to be bridged, but, as a Globe and Mail article on the subject explains:

Fashion Television helped prove production could be done on the cheap. As viewers became accustomed to the new cut-rate aesthetic, the field was primed for the rise of individuals toting flip phones. Many fashion labels began to produce videos of their own shows, further squeezing the established outlets.

The advent of KCD‘s Digital Fashion Show platform will undoubtedly throw yet another wrench into the field. The network, which debuted during the Fall 2012 shows in February, gives designers the opportunity to broadcast their collections directly to invited guests, with embeddable links appearing one hour after the presentation to allow for public viewing.

It remains to be seen how the field will adapt to the changing media landscape in order to avoid becoming a relic of a bygone era. After all, people having been mourning the death of print for years now and Anna Wintour‘s caché doesn’t seem to have been diminished. Perhaps, with enough flexibility and forward-thinking, there’s hope yet for fashion television, if not for FT.

[image via The Globe and Mail]

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