Sunday, 8 November 2009

They Call It British

I happened to catch today's episode of the BBC's Points of View, where the Head of Drama Commissioning (for the BBC) was interviewed, and expressed his opinions on all things British Drama. For most of what he said, he was entirely wrong.

He supports soap operas. Okay... okay... that I can just about take. Yeah, sure, they are the lowest common denominator scripted drama going but every now and then they touch on issues that need addressing, in the 'comforts' of a very domestic setting. What does annoy me is the fact that:

a) not only does the corporation produce Eastenders & Doctors (both of which wear their soap opera status proudly) but they create 'stealth' soaps, like Holby City or Waterloo Road, that pretend to be dramas that mean something... but really, ain't. They're extensions of these other soap operas, exploting sensational crisis points and cheap storytelling.

When we say the UK doesn't produce anything up to the standards of The Wire or The Sopranos, we're wrong because we do. It's shows like Torchwood: Children of Earth, or The Street. We make such sweeping statements, because fantastic dramas such as these are hidden far, far underneath a much bigger pile of trashy soaps and throwaway soap-dramas.

Then there's point b) - the fact that 35% of the BBC's allocated drama budget is being spent on producing these shows. That's probably around a quarter of the entire money being pumped into UK television dramas - now that ITV and Channel 4 are spending less and less on commissioning drama. 35% on soaps, or soap-like series. Think about that.

When was the last time you watched an episode of Eastenders from 1992 on DVD? Or any other soap? Answer, never. These are throwaway pieces, made for mass entertainment once only. Once they're broadcast... that's the end of it. That particular episode is done and dusted... it's not sold on DVD, or shown again two, three, four years later like Spooks or Doctor Who is.

We're spending our money on a once-only investment. Shouldn't we be making programmes that last; that future generations sit down and watch? Otherwise, what's our legacy?

I've no problems what-so-ever with another of the statements made on Points of View, that there's too much programming for women. Whoever thinks that... oh, they can bugger off. Fact is, there's not enough programming for women on TV - well, at least decent programming. Perhaps we need more programmes that men and women, and children, can sit down and watch together, but that's another matter entirely.

Honestly, British television is still producing shows as good as - if not better than! - the likes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or GBH, or The Prisoner. Look at Queer as Folk, or Bodies, or any of a long list of dramas from the last ten years. There's just more television floating out right now, on a hundred plus digital channels, so you just need to know where to look.

BBC One is a good start, and so is Channel Four. Please, don't let the likes of the soaps or their pale copy cats put you off - Great British drama can still be great British drama. We just need to educate the people in charge, and cross our fingers that they listen.
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