Saturday, May 28, 2011

Something for the Kids: Garry Lyons

Garry Lyons is an award-winning screenwriter whose work includes The Worst Witch, Leah's Trials and musical adaptations of The Secret Garden. He is also a lecturer and the Programme Director for the MA in Writing for Performance at Leeds University.

What I write here is not a transcription, it is my interpretation based on my hit-and-miss notes. So it may not accurately reflect what Garry said, or what he meant to imply. It's my interpretation of what he said.

The initial thrust of Garry's talk - well, he was presenting an academic paper he'd written but that's fine - was Kid's TV drama as a training ground for new writers. He cited Paul Abbott who wrote for "Children's Ward", Stephen Moffat who wrote "Press Gang" and Russell T Davies who wrote "Dark Season" and others.

It's because the BBC has its own production department for Kid's TV and it's own structure (CBBC) completely separate from the rest, that it is able to produce innovative TV that can break the rules. And has done all through it's history. It can create drama with more imagination and freedom, and is not constrained to the rigid "naturalism" of mainstream TV drama.

We have to say "mainstream" rather than "adult" because "adult" tends to suggest other things.

Because Kid's TV has less visibility, after all most adults don't watch it, it gets less interference. Although that is not as true today as it was, there is still greater freedom than in mainstream TV.

Do you remember Kid's TV when you were young? There will no doubt be shows that left their mark on you (for me personally it was Sky by Anglia TV - never repeated though it is out on DVD now - very scary fantasy; my script Air is inspired by that story, though you won't recognise it).

What Kid's TV does is help to shape our national identity, which is why it's essential that we have home-grown TV for kids. Now that is part of the BBC's remit, and they are putting more money into it. But commercial TV is no longer forced to produce Kid's TV by law, so they don't. In 2004 £139m was spent on Kid's TV, in 2009 it was £87m.

But no competition for CBBC means no innovation. Where are the long-running series now? The Worst Witch (killed by global success and stupidity); The Queen's Nose; The Demon Headmaster; replaced now by cheap easy-to-produce kid's soaps?

And yet: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings (no, I wouldn't call it kids entertainment either), Narnia - and the live theatre which is now booming: like The Railway Children usually produced in Railway museums with real steam trains (awesome).

But with a global market out there it's a matter of re-packaging the fundamental Britishness for the global market as well as the home market. (And it's Britishness that sells - it's a global brand in itself.) But it seems that Kid's TV is already ahead of the game, already the major productions have global funding - makes management harder but gets good product out there.

This story is not a tragedy.

What's on the turntable? "Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes" by David Bowie from "Sound and Vision"

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