Tuesday saw that rare thing on British telly.

Tuesday saw that rare thing on British telly. A writer being taken seriously. Alan Yentob??s interview with Colm Toibin for Tuesday??s Imagine was an amusing, eloquent, incisive thing, mostly because those are the qualities that Toibin brings to his conversation as well as his fiction. Talking about the reaction in Ireland when he was first nominated for the Booker Prize, Toibin recalled people getting out of their car in front of him and cheering. ??You??d written a book for Ireland,?? he said. ??Then it meant you had to go and lose for Ireland.??

Writers make good interviewees. Anyone watching Dominic Sandbrook??s hugely flawed history of science fiction, Tomorrow??s Worlds, this evening will know as much. The writers?? contributions are the best thing in it. All of which leaves you wondering why TV doesn??t use them more.

Oh, they??ll turn up as talking heads in programmes such as Sandbrook??s and various BBC Four documentaries. Now and again they might even be the subject of a documentary of their own (to be fair, it??s not so long ago that Yentob interviewed Philip Roth). But these are the exception rather than the rule.

The truth is television doesn??t take books seriously. Then again, it doesn??t take any of the arts seriously. Sky has its arts channel of course but that??s a niche interest. Try to find straightforward arts coverage on the BBC and usually you need to turn on the radio.

A total of £1.416bn was spent on books in the UK last year. That??s almost as much as a George Osborne NHS promise. You would think that interest might get reflected in the national broadcaster??s output. But short of seeing books as potential adaptations or big-name writers as possible guests on The One Show, that level of interest simply isn??t there. Which is strange, given the impact something as straightforward (and presumably cheap) as the Richard and Judy Book Club had when Channel 4 aired it a few years back.

At which point it??s worth remembering that it wasn??t always thus. From time to time BBC Four will screen an old episode of Arena or Omnibus to remind us of how ambitious the corporation??s arts coverage used to be. Rarer, though, are the glimpses of the BBC strand Bookmark which was still running in the late 1990s (although its Google traces are a little faint).

Edited by the novelist Nigel Williams, it was a mixture of author profiles (you can find a 1998 programme on Mervyn Peake online without much difficulty) and more challenging, adventurous fare that used books as a jumping-off point for filmmakers. Personally I would love another chance to see Adam Low??s 1995 film that took a modern-day trip up the River Congo (or the River Zaire, if you prefer) prompted by Conrad??s Heart Of Darkness.

There is something very dull about middle-aged people remembering how things were better in the old days. I know this. But the fact is there was a time when the BBC was not as obsessed about ratings as it is now, a time when its arts documentaries didn??t stick rigidly to the same lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter format (make sure you tell everyone what they can expect right at the start with cuttings from interviews you are going to show 20 minutes later etc), and a time when the idea of books and literature seemed a subject worth exploring more than once every other month.

And yet, with a little thought, there??s so much fun that could be had with a books programme. Couldn??t an enterprising presenter make a documentary comparing the Marquis de Sade??s output with that of EL James? Or how about asking Morrissey to present a programme on his literary heroes (everyone from Shelagh Delaney to Oscar Wilde)? And don??t tell me there wouldn??t be an audience for Mary Berry??s History Of Cookery Books.

I am currently reading Beta Life (Comma Press, £12.99), a chunky book of science fiction short stories written by the likes of Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Toby Litt, in which all the stories are set in 2070 and all deal with advances in AI and robotics. And all come with a postscript by a scientist discussing the concepts in each story. It??s a smart idea adroitly carried out (the Cottrell-Boyce story is wonderful fun).

Wouldn??t it make an intriguing TV series? Dramatise the story and then get scientists to outline the current position? And if you really need a familiar face get Brian Cox to front it.

Books are full of great ideas. Writers are full of good conversation. Maybe TV execs should watch less and read more.