Saturday, October 04, 2008

Parting Shit

It’s fair to say it had been a good week thus far. Sure, there was good and bad as there always in, but remarkably it seemed to be balanced out quite well for a change.

For instance, Wednesday was bright and sunny while I was home and then on the train in to London. As soon as I got into the centre and was out on the street it absolutely bucketed down, which was an utter pisser. So I ducked into HMV because it had a big sign announcing a sale with up to 70% off.

Usually the big reductions are on the useless tat but there was The Complete West Wing boxset reduced from £200 down to fifty quid. Having previously borrowed Mr Mark’s missus’ DVDs to watch, I figured it was time to have my own, especially given the bargain price for 154 episodes and most of the Region One extras.

I had meant to catch the new season premiere of Heroes but flicking through the listings in the London/East England edition of The Times’ arts supplement The Knowledge, I wasn’t paying enough attention to notice that they’d reprinted BBC2’s Wednesday night schedule for Thursday as well. Of course I came across the wrong day first.

If I’d bothered to watch television the past couple weeks rather than continue to bury my head in David Simon’s book, I probably would have been bombarded with trails for the third season. So, I missed it, but I guess going back to The West Wing instead meant I watched something that involved great writing and acting rather than utter confusion.

During the last seven days I even started work on a project that got delayed while I got bogged down in other things. Even though this was embarrassingly overdue, I guess I was lucky that the client wanted me to do and stuck with me. So, as I said, it’s been pretty darn good.

And then I caught up with the news about Traitor’s final blah, blah, blah before she leaves her job as BBC Head of Fiction and fucks off to pastures we don’t care. Apparently her parting shot came at the Women in Film and Television event held at BAFTA this week where she railed against what she described as the “fetishisation” of single drama on television, which only proves what a total horse’s ass she is.

She told those assembled: “There’s a very good place for the single play on TV, but you can also get it in the theatre and in the cinema. Neither theatre or cinema can do a six-part series,” then cited Peter Moffat’s Criminal Justice, which was shown over five nights, Paul Abbott’s celebrated political thriller State of Play and Peter Kosminsky-directed peace-keeping drama Warriors as examples of the utter bollocks she was talking about.

Where do you start with such a dumb statement as that? The theatre and cinema is only made of single dramas? What about Tom Stoppard’s The Coast Utopia, which consists of a trilogy of plays about the origins of political radicalism in 19th century Russia? Or Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges and The Absence of War, David Hare’s trilogy of plays about the state of contemporary Britain?

What about these various film trilogies that keep cropping up? They may err on the side of spectacle rather than story, but even if you don’t like these movies – and I’m certainly not always a fan – they still tell a story. Is Traitor’s point simply about length? Because one part of a television drama serial is usually an hour long, that normally makes it half the length of one part of a film trilogy, so they tend to even out.

Taking one of her examples, Warriors was only a two-part drama than ran just under three hours in total. If it’s not about length but number of episodes, maybe she should have cited Kosminsky’s political drama The Project from 2002, because as well as being written by Leigh Jackson who scripted Warriors, at least that was in three parts.

As an argument, what she said was obviously crap, which really shouldn’t come as any surprise. It appears anyway that this ill thought out nonsense was just Traitor’s attempt to try and put some weight behind her argument against the repeated calls to revive such strands as Play for Today, something the stupid woman calls as being “anachronistic”.

Traitor’s criticism seems to be because such series use the material to address social issues. Don’t other dramas do that as well? Doesn’t she know about subtext? Or does this idiot woman only ever take everything at face value?

Back in the 1960s The Wednesday Play certainly did address social issues by tackling such contentious topics as racial prejudice, capital punishment and homosexuality. In 1965, the broadcast of the Ken Loach-directed Up the Junction was timed to coincide with a parliamentary debate on the Abortion Law Reform Bill. The following year Cathy Come Home led to public outrage at the state of housing in the country and put Shelter, the new homeless charity in the spotlight.

Under the Play for Today banner, Edna, the Inebriate Woman, also written by Jeremy Sandford and starring Patricia Hayes, tackled homelessness while Trevor Griffiths’ 1975 drama Through the Night highlighted the deficiencies of post-operative care for patients undergoing breast cancer treatment. But aside from social matters, both series should just as importantly be celebrated for the sheer diversity of the material they presented.

Much more importantly, in television terms, The Wednesday Play and Play for Today showcased the work of new writers. The 1971 play Circle Line was written by W. Stephen Gilbert who had won a BBC Student Play competition and instead of Criminal Justice, State of Play and Warriors, Traitor could have mentioned Pennies From Heaven, The Singing Detective and Karaoke as examples of television drama at its best.

Three multi-part dramas unique to television, because the film adaptations of the first two certainly showed they don’t work in a different medium, the trio of course were written by the late Dennis Potter who began his television writing career under the aegis of The Wednesday Play. There he had the opportunity to find his unique voice.

Nowadays we have this BBC writing academy but all it does is train up new writers to script useless bullshit like Casualty and Holby City. Obviously new writers need experience in the industry first but inconsequential serial drama is just deadening. Meanwhile the few multi-part dramas that appear each year seem, on the whole, to be by the same usual suspects.

If we had a new version of Play for Today that concentrated on lower-budgeted single dramas it could be a good springboard for a new generation of writers to show what they can offer. Some may not work, but if two or three new writers emerge, that can only be a good thing. When Traitor fucks off, hopefully the person who takes her place has the brains to understand that.


At 8:07 pm, Blogger potdoll said...

Woo you're on form!

At 9:28 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


Well, I forgot to take my medication last night. Maybe that was it.

You know, in the report in Broadcast there was another quite from idiot-girl Tranter:

“When people talk about risk, they talk about singles, but it is the least risky thing you can commission. A great big chunk of something new – that's risky.”

What exactly have we had that’s new, that’s risky? Holby Blue? Bonekickers? Mutual Friends? The only risk is to the show creators, being chased by angry viewers brandishing flaming torches and pitchforks.

When the BBC makes “a great big chunk of something new” it turns out to be not that new, but instead a wan variation on something that was done better before, which then haemorrhages viewers over the following weeks until it’s sad and inevitable end.

The BBC only makes 25 single dramas a year, broadcast over the four channels. Only 25. Potter’s gone. Thank God we still have Poliakoff. The risk involved should be to give new untried writers a chance to show what they’re capable of.

Because otherwise all we get left with in the schedules are these fucking useless hospital dramas, which are the equivalent of the mush fed through tubes to people with severe brain damage.

At 10:56 pm, Blogger potdoll said...

Mutual Friends wasn't very inspiring was it. Never seen Holby Blue or Bonekickers so I can't really comment on them.

They're no Stand Up Nigel Barton, or Jim Cartwright's Road though are they.

At 2:14 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Mutual Friends really was totally uninspiring. Bonekickers was utter nonsense and as for Holby Blue... it was like someone had watched the first season of NYPD Blue and then decided to make the most useless, gormless version of it. And yes, They are no Stand Up, Nigel Barton.

And something I hadn’t thought of earlier, because they’re not something to be reminded of, but someone should have nudged Tranter (possibly with a baseball bat) and mentioned The Last Enemy and Burn Up.

Both of those were two, well publicised, multi-part BBC dramas which addressed “social issues” and both of them stank. The reason they stank was because they were so up on addressing social issues that they forgot to add any real drama.

I’d prefer it if they came to three or four upcoming and interesting writers like yourself and said we have a number of established standing sets you can use, come up with a 60-minute drama using the minimum allowed drama budget.

Those I would happily watch.

At 9:56 pm, Blogger potdoll said...

lol funnily enough i'd prefer that too :)

At 10:50 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

“Subtext? I know a lot of writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards.”

The mighty words of the towering literary god that is Garth Marenghi.

At 11:07 pm, Blogger qrter said...

A few years back I downloaded the Play for tomorrow-series, a lesser known spin-off from Play for today. I mean, Play for today was excellent, but this really blew my mind. Six episodes filled to the brim with bleak, wordy science-fiction, straight out of that rich seam of nihilistic seventies Threads-style of sci-fi.

I just now, while looking up some info on the series, that my favourite episode of the series was written by Caryl Churchill, who I've coincidentally recently been semi-obsessing over. Which is nice.

At 11:44 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I have to say, I don't remember Play for Tomorrow at all. Just had a quick nose around to find out about it. Even though the information is sketchy at best, it sounds very much like Out of the Unknown. Which is good.

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