Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Is drama safe at the BBC?

In The Guardian, Gareth McLean asks if BBC drama's poor performance at this year's BAFTAs is indicative of a serious malaise.
"There are so many cooks involved in any new project now that any distinctiveness is being throttled," says another, Bafta-winning writer. "Such is the lack of courage of commissioners and the climate of fear in which they operate, the commissioning process is ossifying."

The only opinion that these writers and producers say matters is that of Jane Tranter, the BBC's head of Fiction. One writer, who like the rest asked to remain anonymous, claims that trust between the BBC and writers and producers who deliver the goods has evaporated.

"They commission an episode, you write seven drafts, probably with input from four different BBC producers - all of whom contradict one another - and then, instead of making a decision, they commission a second episode and then often a third, even for a second series. They're so scared of getting it wrong, they'd rather play it safe. There is only one question in everyone's head, whether it be writer, independent producer or BBC exec - what would Jane think?"
McLean puts these concerns to BBC Ben Stephenson, head of drama commissioning.
"Ultimately the decision on what is made is made between me, Jane and the channel controller, but in terms of what's developed, there's a genuine diversity of voices which there wouldn't be if Jane and me developed things ourselves ...[Jane] isn't the taste-maker, she really isn't. My feeling is 'thank God we have a lot of commissioning editors' because that genuinely means that one person doesn't rule."


  1. Is Drama safe at the BBC? It would be if you put me at the helm. I'd do it for free, so long as they paid my tube fare. As an un-commissioned, unpublished writer of 43 years I have nothing to loose from such a fatuous remark. Bring back 'Play for Today'. On the BBC Writersroom website, it shows the picture of a pen with the slogan "Use your weapon". Surely this must be a joke. I consider myself a talented writer - or I wouldn't keep writing. Yes, it's very humiliating, when you get a letter back from Writersroom, stating that they "are only interested in writers of talent that they can develop further". Well, may Great Satan save me from ever being "developed" by such a corporate mentality. The recent BBC 'Drama Academy', (also promoted on the Writersroom website) is not for Drama; it's for soaps such as 'East Enders', 'Holby City' and their ilk. Well, that's not 'Drama' in my book. One cannot help but feel that it's all "jobs for the boys". Of course, no writer in their right mind would dare to criticize the BBC on this blog - probably because they have vested interests - or are too worried about blowing any chances of a future commission. Is there a black list for folk like me. Most surely. Excellent dramas (and adaptations) like 'Cranford' are the exception rather than the rule.
    Nicholas Shea. (Sent me to Coventry).

  2. There are many roads to heaven, Geodesic, and I'm sure that even the BBC would say that the Writers'Room is only one of them (and that depends on your definition of heaven.) To me, the most important thing about selling your writing is perseverance, belief and then more perseverance... and make up your own rules and go for it. Good luck!

  3. Thank you Gail. As I understand it, part of the modern route to success depends on 'Networking'. I note at Stella UK, every function is preceded by half an hour of 'Networking'. But being shy and of humble birth (not to mention my altruistic temperament), the thought of a throng of luvvies all 'Networking' makes me shiver to the marrow. Further, I have it on good authority that 'Networking' is in fact a euphemism for something quite different altogether. (Sorry, I just laughed so much my pile popped out).


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