Monday, June 08, 2009

The Loyal Hunt Of The One

For the past few days, when I haven’t been writhing in agony from the kidney infection, I’ve been rather bemused by the pointless fuss caused by comments made by the new BBC1 Controller that she won’t be actively shopping for any new American series. Speaking at the Broadcast Press Guild event earlier in the week, Jay Hunt said that such acquisitions were not a “massively important part” of her vision for the channel and suddenly industry magazine articles and blog posts across the Atlantic are all in a nonsensical lather.

Looking beyond their ninny knee-jerk reaction, which appears to have caused must wailing and rending of garments across Los Angeles, if they had got past thinking that everything is always about them they might have figured out that her statement was most likely directed towards us. Before stepping into the role of Controller of BBC1 last May, after Peter Fincham stepped down over the nonsensical “Crowngate” scandal, Hunt was Five’s Director of Programmes. The channel, known for “films, fucking and football,” during its first few years on air, only began to improve its audience share once it began to aggressively snap up new US dramas.

Aside from the The Gadget Show and Fifth Gear and a succession of crappy action movies, Five’s nightly schedule is otherwise stuffed full of NCIS, The Shield, Grey’s Anatomy and The Mentalist, supporting every variation of CSI and Law & Order available. Maybe Hunt was using the event to announce that now she’s found her desk at White City and finally settled in, she won’t continue that Long Acre mentality, suddenly cashing in the annual £1.12 billion budget – over five times the amount she had to play with at Five – and showering it over Burbank like one of those Bangkok girls who can do that trick with the ping pong balls.

If that isn’t the reason for her doing it, then what exactly is the reason? BBC1 doesn’t do American drama anymore. It used to, back when it had one companion channel and there was only one rival ITV channel. But with the arrival of Channel 4 and Sky TV, ahead of the proliferation of cable stations, all eager to buy new product to fill their schedules, the BBC pretty much took a step back, letting them get on with their buying sprees rather than get into pissing contests over who could write the largest cheque to snap up the latest hit.

It didn’t mean the BBC completely banished American programmes from the schedules. Instead it has been left to BBC2 to screen various dramas and comedies, usually long after they had been broadcast on Sky or, as in the case of 24, until they were poached by the satellite channel. Even when the BBC stumped up £7 million toward the budget of HBO’s Band of Brothers, the acclaimed wartime drama was ultimately broadcast on BBC2. Although in recent years BBC1 has broadcast the rather average Medium in a late-night slot and the more successful Damages, the last long-running drama shown on BBC1 in a primetime slot was probably The X-Files, which had started out on BBC2 until the ratings rose high enough for it to be appropriated.

So, that’s that sorted, which means everyone in American alarmed by her pronouncement can go back to snorting ketamine of their cabana boy’s naked buttocks or eating their way through a bucket of buffalo wings while reloading their assault rifles. Except, where does that leave English viewers? Reported in Broadcast, Hunt continued by saying:

“I do feel absolutely passionate that part of what I’m there to do, particularly in drama, is to spearhead real innovation and creativity and original British product. That’s something that we do, day in day out.”

Really? Well, if anyone has a few minutes spare could they come and help retune my television because obviously I’m picking up a completely different BBC1.


At 7:19 pm, Blogger English Dave said...

“I do feel absolutely passionate that part of what I’m there to do, particularly in drama, is to spearhead real innovation and creativity and original British product. That’s something that we do, day in day out.”

Possibly meaning they spearhead it right in the nuts?

At 8:37 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...


the funny thing was, what initially drove me to write the post was reading the Variety article that mentioned

Jay Hunt, who took over as controller of BBC1 a year ago, will instead continue to spend most of her drama budget on locally produced fare, such as “Doctor Who” and “Life on Mars.”

It reminded me of Paul Hoggart’s interview with Jane Tranter last July in which she cited Bleak House, Doctor Who and Life on Mars as “recent BBC productions which have added something new to drama”. Even then the Dickens adaptation was three years old, Who was over three years old and I heart The Sweeney over two bloody years old.

So I was thinking, isn’t there anything new these women can big up? Is that the best they can think of when talking about “innovation and creativity”? Hasn’t there been anything new? All I could think of was the godawful Bonekickers and Survivors. Or Merlin. So the answer is obviously a big fucking no.

I watched the second series finale of Ashes to Ashes last night, the first time I had watched an episode since early in the first year. Obviously I wasn’t expecting it to make any sense but it made old Adam West episodes of Batman seem like a realistic crime drama.

The most hilarious moment, even beating the gold bars simply piled up loose in the back of the security van, was when the Audi Quattro piles in to knock down the bent copper and the actor/stuntman jumps up in the air before the car gets anywhere near him. Was that the best freaking take they had?

At 9:45 am, Blogger English Dave said...


The major problem with the BBC is the endemic culture which actually stifles creativity. Talk to any indy producer or writer with projects stuck in development hell.

There are too many layers, too many people more interested in their salaries and pensions than taking creative risks and a maniacal obsession with 'yoof' both in terms of personnel and production choices.

Does anyone actually watch BBC3?

At 4:34 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I’ve just seen that Auntie has suggested bringing BBC3 forward four hours for a 3pm daily start time. Isn’t that when the target audience is watching either CBBC or CBeebies?

The Broadcast piece noted

The corporation has not yet lodged a formal proposal with the Trust but the governing body has already warned it will not back an extension to BBC3’s hours unless there is “clear evidence” that it will not impact quality across the whole of the channel’s schedule.

Quality? What fucking quality? I did turn over to BBC3 once to watch a repeat of Top Gear. Looking at the remaining content on the channel, and knowing that I’m not a complete fucking moron, I decided it wasn’t for me.

At 6:03 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

I take it you saw Caroline's post about James Nesbitt on Facebook?

At 6:32 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

And there was an interview with Jamie Bamber in The Guardian yesterday in which he talks about the piss-poor budgets of UK TV drama, saying:

It's not just superficial things like the food; on Law & Order we couldn't even afford 12 jurors. I’m like, ‘Christ, it’s called Law and Order!’

At 3:08 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

Bless you for giving Ashes-to-whatever a shot, GD. You watch this crap so that the rest of us don't have to.

One of the nice things about the internet is that these days when some corporate gobshite starts spinning a line about spearheading innovation, the rest of us are at least free to draw attention to what absolute bollox this sort of statement represents.

And at your suggestion I've finally got started on The Wire. Watching it is vaguely depressing because there are maybe a dozen different reasons why no broadcaster in this country could produce anything of a remotely similar standard. And money's only a small part of the problem.

At 10:37 am, Blogger Stephen Gallagher said...

We'll never get decent TV until it's back in the hands of people cool enough not to use words like 'passionate'.


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