Frankly, no. Although I have really enjoyed this last series of Spooks, am loving the Bleak House production values and think Bodies is utterly, squalidly magnificent, nothing, but nothing, can stand alongside Veronica Mars, Battlestar Galactica and The Wire. The difference in quality is one thing, but the gulf in the variety of tone and genre on offer is embarassing.
Danny posts today about the MA module, Writing for Existing TV Series, he teaches in Leeds:
The students nearly always choose American dramas to write instead of homegrown UK fare (which always baffles me - surely you’d want a sample script of a UK show to get some work after you graduate?). To be fair, the course has some foreign students who have no interest in writing for UK soaps like Coronation Street or EastEnders but it is interesting to witness the disdain and cynicism towards UK drama from those who say they want to write TV in this country...
But the one thing that students learn every year is that writing for TV is much, much harder than they ever realised and by the end of the module have acquired a whole new appreciation and understanding of what it takes. They sometimes reevaluate their criticism of UK shows and realise that the same talent and craft is being used but that it’s usually a different style and tone that’s in place because of the specific tastes and culture of this island.
So, come on, let’s hear it for UK TV writers. To name but a few: Paul Abbott (Shameless), David Renwick (One Foot in the Grave), Jimmy McGovern (Cracker), Ashley Pharoah (Where the Heart Is), Tony Jordan (EastEnders), Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk), Stephen Merchant (The Office). Style, talent and kudos to rival the best of what the US has to offer.
Should we really celebrate mediocrity, just because being excellent is so hard, and we don’t have the resources or the will for it? Isn’t it alarming, rather than baffling, that students would rather write a spec West Wing than a spec Hustle? Isn’t it a terrible shame that Danny’s roster of national treasures could never team up to produce and control the UK uber-series, a socially-aware, blackly-comic, fast-paced, thrilling, sci-fi drama about a well-intentioned British loser, because the production industry is geared towards a one writer per series or serial mentality?
I, for one, certainly have no ambition to write for Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, The Bill, Casualty etc, although I realise that doing so would most likely be a very valuable experience that many would give their eye-teeth for, and I would never watch any of them unless forced to. Neither can I bear to watch - and no offense to Stephen if he’s reading - yet another feature length ITV drama about punningly named detectives. Or yet another vanity vehicle for Martin Clunes - oh, I’ve said all this before.
There is, no question, an abundance of massively talented writers over here (although Paul Abbot’s been keeping quiet, David Renwick’s latest is not my cup of tea, and McGovern appears to have retired), slogging their guts out producing the same old tired formula, slaves to the whim of producers and Controllers. The only area in which there seems to be any innovation is the sit-com. Compare the last decade of dramas to Father Ted, Spaced, Coupling, Black Books, Phoenix Nights, Green Wing, League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, Marion and Geoff, I’m Alan Partridge, The Office - the UK sit-com is in better shape than it’s ever been, while most drama languishes in the same old ghetto.
So, no, I don’t watch much home-grown drama. It throws up the occasional gem. A mini-series that keeps everyone happy for six weeks, before disappearing and coming back a year later, the same writer finding not quite the same inspiration to do as well the second time around. I am honestly grateful for these oases of brilliance, but I cannot pretend to find satisfaction in shows that have been chewing up promising writers for over twenty years and denying them the chance to find their own voice, forcing them to pen yet another mundane Slater bitch-fight when I am sure they would rather be weaving their own magic.
I don’t care for the product and I care less for what I know of the system that creates it. And yet I want to work in it.
Quite a conundrum, eh?
Category: Movies and TV