I’m optimistic enough to say that I’m finally feeling better, although looking back on to last week I’m beginning to think that it’s the residual effects of ITV’s ongoing stupidity giving me gyp more than anything else.
For one thing, I still don’t know why ITV continue to bother with drama. Really, they should stick to their soaps, increasingly tacky game shows, and the kind of programmes that regurgitate clips of monkeys flinging shit at children or fulsome, drunken bridesmaids taking a tumble, and Harry Hill gloriously taking the piss out of it all.
Of the new one-hour ITV dramas I thought were worth a look, every one was abandoned after a few episodes at best. With their ratings tumbling like a rock as the weeks went by it simply proved that I wasn’t the only one giving up on them. If these home-grown drama aren’t much to cheer about, when the channel shells out for an imported drama that should draw a crowd it makes the news for all the wrong reasons.
Case in point is the Pushing Daisies
fiasco. They buy in the nine episodes made before the WGA strike suspended further production, and then wait until Euro 2008 is only eight weeks away before broadcasting the show. How imbecilic is that? Especially when their way out of the jam is to ditch the second episode rather than transmit the first to episodes back to back as a way around it. That kind of stupidity simply beggars belief, and is a clear indication of the importance ITV gives to drama.
The only time ITV can really count on me as a viewer is with their two-hour format dramas that began with Inspector Morse
back in 1987. I’m sure I read somewhere that the format came about solely because Anthony Minghella, adapting Colin Dexter’s novel The Dead of Jericho
, couldn’t work out a cliffhanger that would have broken the script into two parts, and producers Ted Childs and Kenny McBain supported it.
Whether that’s the case or not, what made Inspector Morse
wasn’t just the high production values and labyrinthine plots, but that it traded on the great English tradition of murder mystery. No wonder it became one of British television’s biggest drama exports. One blistering hot afternoon in Las Vegas, many years ago, there I was waiting to buy some cheap pornography and upon hearing my accent the blue-rinse Nevada biddies in line behind me let out, “Oh, we so do love your Inspector Morse
Of the shows that came after it, A Touch of Frost
was a little rough around the edges and more in tune with contemporary social subject matter, which meant it wasn’t really part of the programme. Instead it was the shows that followed the great English tradition of murder mystery, with picturesque summer evenings illuminating bodies on the lawns of country houses.
While American crime dramas may go for high tech forensics to solve their cases through the appliance of science, we stick to the gentleman detectives who match their wits against the killers and catch them through deductive reasoning. It may not be efficient in this day and age, especially when the bodies tend to start piling up, but it reflects the eccentric side of our national character.
After Inspector Morse
rolled to a close in 2000, after 33 feature-length episodes, Midsomer Murders
kept up the fine tradition. Based on Caroline Graham’s Inspector Barnaby novels, and adapted for television by Anthony Horowitz, it may have got even barmier with age, with the Midsomer region now some kind of Cotswold killing field, but that’s what makes it so utterly comforting to the viewer.
The most recent episode, broadcast last Sunday, thoroughly trounced the BBC’s highly regarded costume drama Miss Austen Regrets
with almost twice as many viewers. That’s a good thing because, while Midsomer Murders
remaining entertaining, Lewis
, the belated and totally unnecessary spin-off from Inspector Morse
, is frankly dull. Meanwhile Marple
, which until recently starred Geraldine McEwan as Agatha Christie’s prize sleuth, is simply embarrassing.
To differentiate it from the definitive BBC series of the 1980s starring Joan Hickson, ITV’s Marple
tried to sauce up the action. The very first episode, an adaptation of The Body in the Library
, changed the identity of the murderer simply to introduce a lesbian element to the proceedings. Later in the run Miss Marple was transplanted into Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford novels for no other reason than it carried on the colourful pantomime.
Still, there was one drama that did work. When Inspector Morse
was coming to an end, ITV put out a tender to find a suitable replacement. Of the hundreds of ideas received, the one they went with was Anthony Horowitz’s The War Detective
, later renamed Foyle’s War
. Horowitz’s intention was to produce a drama in which the murder mystery element was the engine running the show but not the raison d’être
Set on the south coast of England amid the danger and disorder of the Second World War, the series revolved around moral uncertainties and dilemmas taking place against real events. And the audience bought into it. None of the nineteen episodes, broadcast over seven years, dropped below seven million viewers, with the fourth and final episode of the first series reaching over 10 million.
It routinely shut out the BBC’s Sunday night dramas, like Monarch of the Glen
, and pummelled Poliakoff’s Friends and Crocodiles
when it was foolishly scheduled opposite Foyle’s War
fourth series opener in early 2006. It also sold very well overseas, which means that ITV probably was very wrong to cancel it after nineteen episodes.
How fucked in the head do you have to be to knock on the head one of the few dramas that consistently brings in a large audience? Incensed by the decision, Horowitz rightly named and shamed Simon Shaps, until recently ITV’s idiot Director of Programmes, for axing the drama.
Formerly the Chief Executive of Granada, Shaps took on the new role in late 2005. Within his first year at ITV he had cancelled the likes of Rosemary and Thyme
, Footballers’ Wives
, and Celebrity Fit Club
and vowed to “reinvent” the channel’s output. This meant that by late 2007 he was being accused of copycat programming by Mark Thompson after it was pointed out that ITV’s Tycoon
, You Don't Know You're Born
, Dancing on Ice
and Grease Is The Word
bore more than uncanny resemblances to the BBC’s The Apprentice
, Who Do You Think You Are
, Strictly Ice Dancing
and How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria
Why Shaps had it in for the drama still remains unclear. It may be that he’s just a monumental cock, or he’s a monumental cock with his nose out of joint. He arrived at ITV in the year there were inexplicably no new episodes of Foyle’s War
. Instead the film version of Stormbreaker
, the first of Horowitz’s Alex Rider books, was released in the cinemas. Having written the screenplay himself, Horowitz may have been seen by Shaps as not prioritizing Foyle’s War
over the movie.
The very first two series of Foyle’s War
were set in 1940, while the four episodes of the third series were set between February and June of 1941. Moving forward incrementally, the show would obviously eventually reach war’s end, but it was expected to be a long way off. Except when the fourth series eventually arrived in early January 2006 with only two episodes, the action had suddenly lurched forward to April and August 1942.
The fifth series appeared a year later, again with only two episodes. This time the pair were shown months apart, rather than broadcast on consecutive weeks, with the action taking place first in December 1942 and then March of 1943. This year’s final series, consisting of three episodes covered early and late 1944 before coming to a hasty end in May 1945 and VE Day as Horowitz hastily tried to wrap everything up.
After the public outcry and general consensus that Shaps’ decision only proves that he is indeed a monumental cock, it’s interesting to see that Laura Mackie, ITV’s Director of Drama, in discussions with Horowitz to somehow continue the series. Maybe the idea will be to jump back in time and start filling in the blanks.
Back in the late 1990s when it looked like Joe Straczynski wasn’t going to get a fifth year for Babylon 5
he cut the story short and filmed the final episode, Sleeping in Light. When a deal was struck close to the eleventh hour, allowing him to go all the way with his five-year plan, a new final fourth season episode was produced and Sleeping in Light was put on the shelf for twelve months.
If ITV really was serious about continuing Foyle’s War
, wouldn’t it have been an idea to pull the final episode from the schedule and shelve it until the proper time? Anyway it’s just a thought. And after being all phlegmy, it’s just something I wanted to get off my chest.