Monday, August 21, 2006

Astounding admission from ITV drama head

A few people have linked to this one already, but it’s so remarkable, I had to as well. Andy Harries, head of drama production at ITV gave a no-holds barred interview with The Guardian today (if you’re not already registered, do it now - it’s a great site). Just like Simon Shaps in April, Harries is more than willing to admit that ITV has not only screwed the pooch, but left its children open-mouthed and starving while blowing their college funds on setting up the pooch with its very own fuck-pad.

The interview begs the question that if everyone at ITV knows their output is so fucking unwatchable, what the hell have they been doing for the last five years? Fiddling while the damn network burns?

From the piece:

Harries is tasked with wooing back mainstream viewers after a terrible summer, with a line-up studded with top-class yet familiar drama. These include a refreshingly modern-looking Cracker, revived after 10 years, and Helen Mirren's final bow as an alcoholic DC Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect 7. His department's other autumn ITV offerings include the third series of Life Begins, starring Caroline Quentin, and the return of Vincent, with Ray Winstone.

When asked to pinpoint why ITV is haemorrhaging viewers, his observations are equally candid. Allen, he remarks, was "well-intentioned, but the difficulty was the business became more important than the channels".

He illustrates the Allen era lack of focus on ITV1 this way. "If you make a two-hour drama for ITV, the actual running time is 94 minutes, for Channel 4 it is 101 minutes, that's seven more minutes," he says. "It's not about more or less advertising, it is largely promotions clutter. On Channel 4 the drama plays better.

"Don't you think that the ABs [upmarket viewers] have stopped watching ITV because it has become unwatchable? Hundreds of people tell me this. There is too much clutter, and it is putting people off. ITV is so unfashionable. It doesn't have to be like Channel 4, but it should be modern. It looks like a bargain basement."

Allen presided over the move of the news to 10.30pm in 2001, which Harries says created great openings for BBC drama and terrible problems for ITV creatives, because they had to make shows that ran from 9pm to 10.30pm. "They wanted drama to run for 90 minutes. That's a very uncomfortable slot, writers find it very difficult to write for it. It's a five-act structure instead of three," he explains.

"I was very vocal about getting it back to an hour [a decision made this year]. Good shows - Murder City, Vincent, Island at War - all suffered, and this may have been a factor in some not being recommissioned."

In addition, he thinks the ITV Network Centre, which picks the shows, lacked direction, with drama catering too much for older women."Every broadcaster makes mistakes. But in the past five years ITV's compounded mistakes have added up. Drama has not delivered as well as it should or could do," he says.

He owns up to his fair share of flops. "I don't think our drama is big enough, or must-watch enough. We've had too many series, and we have lacked conviction."...

...And what about the future? "All of my success is down to long-term relationships with writers, once you have a creative partnership that is how good things come out. The television market here is developing into centres of excellence, I would like to be a centre of excellence for serious drama, single dramas and movies."

I didn’t watch the aforementioned Murder City or Island at War, but Vincent was badly hampered by having to fill an hour and a half. I hope when it returns it’s down to a tighter hour. I also hope ITV can eventually find their way back out of the rut they’ve driven themselves into, and that once Charles Allen’s replacement takes over we’ll see fewer of the network’s executives publicly slagging off their employer and making something watchable instead.


  1. Yeah, thanks Andy, could you not maybe have piped up several fucking years ago? Everyone knew ITV drama was shit for a long, long time, except, apparently, ITV themselves. Hey, bring on another "feature length" one-off starring Ross Kemp as yet another version of the same character. Bollocks. We've heard all this shit before, let's see if they really do improve the quality, and build relationships with writers, whatever the fuck that means.

  2. I enjoyed all the buck passing. "Oh, someone moved the news so all our dramas suffered because we had to make them half an hour longer."


    I've been watching GBH, and most of the episodes are 90 minutes long. Most HBO dramas would be pushing an hour and a half if shown on ITV, with ads. Last season, The Shield and Battlestar Galactica had some barnstorming 90 minute episodes. The problem is not that it's so hard to write a five act drama - it's only a three thousand year old model for christ sake. The problem is that some of these network and producer people can't tell the difference between good and bad writing, or between a full, feature length episode, and a padded out hour-long.

  3. I can't see a bright future for TV really. I don't know what they have up their sleeve but it better be good. Some shows are okay. What really needs to change is how they sell them to us. Basically I DON'T need to know who is in it. I DON'T need to know when it is on (i can find that out). I DON'T need to be teased. I DO need to know how long it is (when am I getting into) and I DO need to know whats it in for me. If its 3 x 1 hour then thats 3 hours of my life. Why should I invest that? How will I be different at the end? If TV swapped to that I think it would radical enough to at least get noticed. Currently no one seems to give a flying...