25 July 2010

Why British TV is so dull

Nick Cohen has a good debate going on this subject in Standpoint. I can't improve on the following:
American dramatists are not public service broadcasters. They can make dramas, which are far worse than anything we see, and far better. British television is a part of the establishment, with public-service obligations set by a state that gives knighthoods and peerages to senior station controllers on their retirement. Broadcasters seem to think that they have to show that at the end of every story the virtuous are rewarded and the wicked punished. They have to pretend that there are no problems with, say, multiculturalism or suggest that all decent people share the outlook of an upper-middle class human rights lawyer or Liberal Democrat MP with a healthy trust fund and tender conscience.

Yet public service broadcasters operating under the same establishment guidelines produced excellent dramas from the 1960s to the 1980s. Why they cannot now is still something of a mystery. My gut instinct remains that British television has a structural problem (discussed in this post) stemming from too much power being in the hands of too few commissioners, and an unwarranted self-esteem stemming from its production of formulaic programmes, which sell well internationally but which are ultimately pap.

Crow eating time. Watching "Sherlock" on BBC1, the first of three stories with Conan Doyle's creation operating in modern London. It is really very good - witty, pacy writing, fine neurotic lead performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, clever supporting role by Martin Freeman as Watson. Then there was a superb "Top Gear" with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, and a moving tribute to Ayrton Senna. Gulp.

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