Thursday, December 08, 2005

Feel the ripples

Denis McGrath follows my perfunctory referral to Jane Featherstone's Guardian profile with a great post about the potential benefits to both the UK and Canada of teaming up in order to move away from the predominant six episode serial model. There are very good reasons to do this - longer running shows stand a greater chance of making back their budget in foreign sales, and provide training ground for new writers, something the UK is in real need of right now. At the moment, Featherstone states, most of our TV writers train in theatre, or on soaps, making their name in an environment which actually provides very little preparation for the move to working on a drama series. The writing talent is out there, but it is not well nurtured; moving towards a format that can actually provide a means to develop new talent is better for everyone - the writers, production company, TV stations, and the audience.

The End of the British 6-Pack?.

Category: Movies and TV


  1. The National Film School {gawd bless'em] used to [maybe they don't now] aim to train 'employable' writers - they didn't want provincial Pressburgers or bedsit Hitchcocks - you had to learn to write 'The Bill' or 'Eastenders' and if you wanted to write some imaginative epic that wasn't about Antique dealer detectives or Chef detectives or Jersey boys - good luck to you, ciao - The choice was [or seemed to be] Cricklewood over Hollywood - I really didn't like The Bill or Eastenders - I became a waiter.

    But the romantic formica of slinging plates has worn a little thin and now all I want to do is write TV.

    And I don't know whether TV has changed or I have - It seems to me that the production values of US TV gone up a notch in recent years - The Bruckheimers out there have brought a cinematic flare to mundane dramas - sometimes this makes the dramas appear a little too 'unreal' and sometimes it makes them appear seductive - but the bottom line is that they can bring cinematic qualities [please don't ask me to explain that] to TV and for the most part they can do it quickly and not too expensively.

    The expense part is what the production companies are terrified of. But for it to succeed they have to invest - not only in the writers, but also the productions - too much British TV is appallingly lit and lazily produced giving an overall impression of a filmed stage play. The talent and the imagination are out there - the people with purses just have to give it a chance.

  2. Would call for a monumental change in the way writers are trained, and I don't see us having the kind of industry that sustains that kind of growth and has that kind of interest from the great british public - it'd just fall under its own weight. A shift towards writing teams a lá the Americans? I'm all for it. Now if only we made our dramas as good as our comedies.

  3. But as soon as you move to team writing, the training issue takes care of itself. Not all members of a group are equivalently experienced.

    And the writers are already there. At the moment though, they just end up at Emmerdale or 'Enders, because there is no alternative. They learn to write soap and need assistance when it comes to try something else.

    Season One of Spooks was six episodes. Foreign sales enabled subsequent seasons to have ten. Get some US station to invest further for first run rights and push to thirteen or twenty. Longer runs equals a need for more writers, creates a marketplace and training ground that means they won't get snapped up by the soaps by default. Once the ball is rolling, it actually gets easier to train new writers because they'll get more to do.

    The way is open, all that's lacking is will.

  4. You see, I don't think the writers are there, nor does a lifetime to watching good series' prepare you for actually writing one. Most American tv shows are authorerd in some way (the french way), whether it's Alan Ball, Daniel Knauf, David Chase, Shawn Ryan, it doesn't matter - without making it sound too grand or pretentious, there needs to be a vision, a foundation in story and character that establishes the window that other writers are hired to see through and write. And unless we produce these shows from conception with a mass (American) appeal nothing will change.

    It's in the ideas, and it's those we need to champion and spend more time on.