Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tranter defends BBC TV drama

At a speech to the Royal Television Society last night, Jane Tranter (Controller, BBC Fiction) delivered a speech about what she's learned in eight years at the helm of BBC TV drama. Her wide-ranging address included a defence of drama series and her preference for a certain kind of story-telling.
In the modern world of endless media possibilities we can help a drama to succeed by encouraging it to be succinct, to declare its intent, to make its premise clear.

This is absolutely not, repeat not, about making dramas that are high concept (hard to think of an aim more liable in TV terms to feel hollow and manufactured and fail). It's about ensuring that the heart of the drama is not only true, but is not opaquely or perversely hidden.

Dennis Potter once said if you can "grab an audience by the hand, you can take them wherever you want". Absolutely. But if you can't grab hold of their hand in the first place because they haven't got a clue whose hand they're holding and why, then the drama will be making its interesting journey of revelation and insight all on its own. In which case it might have been easier, let alone cheaper, to write a novel.
She also defended the role of the executive.
People in our business sometimes say they long just to be "left alone to get on with it" – as if making television drama is somehow a solitary occupation, when anyone who's ever been involved in producing a drama knows that a necessary key skill is crowd control…

Or sometimes they seem to think that making a drama is a secret to be kept hidden from everyone, preferably even the audience.

For me the presence of some kind of objective eye on a drama is essential. Someone to ask "are you sure?" or "I wonder whether...?". Someone to act as a safety net both editorially and financially. Someone to soak up any piece of flak that's flying. And someone who frankly rarely gets to share in any of the credit.
And, finally, she called for TV to be taken more seriously as an art form.
Russell T Davies said something the other month in an interview he gave that really struck a chord with me. He said "I think it's really hard to say you love television. It's easy to stand up and say I love opera I love film I love theatre. And people say oh marvellous it's quite right… but it's hard to say you love television. If you do, you sound trivial, superficial, and I'm not. I'm clever. And I know what I'm talking about, and I think it's monstrously unsung as an art form..."

And not for the first time (and unquestionably not for the last) I totally agree with him. Television drama is an art form and it is frequently undervalued, not by audiences, but by how we write, comment and talk about it.

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