Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trouble ahead

Can I get myself into any more trouble? Of course, I can. Getting into trouble is easy, it's the getting out that's the hard part.

You see, something's been bothering me for a while now. And then I was on the phone to a producer last night, a very experienced producer, and the subject of the BBC TV series Outcasts cropped up (which I didn't like much, though I watched all of it).

Then this producer said what I've been thinking.

Let's make this clear from the start: I am not interested in doing the BBC Writers' Academy - lots of people do want to do it, good writers get to do it. And it gives them a hell of a boost in their careers. This is a good thing, I am pleased when other writers do well.

For those who don't know, the Academy's primary purpose is to find writers for shows like East Enders, Holby City, Casualty and so on, and train them to write for shows like that, the BBC's flagship shows, as they call them. More importantly the BBC see this route as the way you earn the right to write other stuff.

You see I have this feeling we're seeing the soapification of British TV drama. Now you may say that soaps are drama and, well, fine, but are you sure?

William Gallagher in this blog (where he was celebrating some fantastic success) mentioned in passing something he'd got from Russell T Davies, something which was a revelation to him:

In the liner notes for the DVD release [of Queer as Folk], he talked about the difference between writing for soap and writing drama. He'd had to learn this, he said, and realised that it boiled down to one major thought: in soaps, people say everything they're thinking; in drama they don't even know what they're thinking. 

In other words one of the best writers in Britain today states there is a fundamental difference between soap writing and drama writing, and that difference is what makes drama drama: subtext.

For RTD and many other excellent writers this is not a problem. They can do both and do them well. And I'm sure that many of the writers progressing through the Writers' Academy can learn to do that too.

But then, you see, we have these heavily plugged shows like The Deep and Outcasts (oh and by the way, in another interview the writer and producer claimed Outcasts was not SF...) what do we get but character dialogue lacking in meaningful subtext. Characters that just say what's in their heads.

Soap not drama.

Yet some of the most original work in the BBC is coming from writers who did not go the soap-writing route, and from ones who clearly recognise the difference.

But we're getting soapified drama as well, but what else can we expect? It's built into the system now. 

I would love to be convinced I am wrong. Truly. Can you convince me?

What's on the turntable? "In Search of a Heart" by Clannad from "Sirius"


Piers said...

Well, IMHO you've already answered your own question by saying that excellent writers can do both.

Russell, Jimmy McGovern, Tony Jordan, Paul Abbott. There are plenty more.

Me, I think the problem's a very simple one, and the answer too. With very few exceptions TV showrunners in the UK are not writers.

Change that, and I believe the problem will go away.

Adaddinsane said...

You're probably right.

Caused a bit of a storm on FB, pity it wasn't here so anyone could read it.

But it was interesting after the initial "you idiot" from some; more experienced writers weighed in with "you're not the only person thinking this sort of thing".

Doesn't mean I'm right in any particular, the causes suggested by others were various.

But it looks like someone needed to say something publicly because it was being a big fat elephant in the room.

Eleanor said...

Great post.

And, I think that Piers is spot on.