Sunday, January 31, 2010

Save scripted television content

By Gail Renard

This week the WGGB once again lobbied at Westminster, along with our Performers’ Alliance colleagues, Equity and the Musicians’ Union. The Guild met with MPs, Lords and Baronesses to talk about the problems facing writers in Britain today. Amongst other topics, we talked about maintaining the output of quality scripted television programmes, so vital to our culture. Ben Bradshaw, Ed Vaizey et al listened... now let’s see what they’ll do. Here’s the paper we delivered.

The Guild's lobbying paper
(by Gail Renard and Ming Ho)

The decline in commissioning of quality scripted television content grows more alarming with the increase in reality shows on all channels. This is to the detriment of not just professional writers and performers, but also the viewers, who are offered less choice and depth of material, and indeed the production companies - non-scripted content might be cheaper to make in the first instance, but has a limited shelf-life and export value.

Ultimately, there is long-term damage to the wider economy through lost revenue and reduced cultural repute.

Scripted content, such as Doctor Who, Cranford, Poirot, The Office and Morse can be repeated on TV and digital platforms internationally for decades. It brings millions of pounds into Britain from overseas sales and related industries, including tourism. Lifestyle and entertainment television may spawn a few big brands, which can be reformatted for local markets, but the majority of reality shows offer no such ongoing benefits.

Commercial broadcasters are fighting for survival, and are understandably looking for quick fixes. But where will the premium content of Britain’s future come from, if original scripted output is allowed to shrink? Where will the next generation of distinctive, top-class British programme-makers be able to cut their teeth? It is vital that we safeguard a significant proportion of air-time for original scripted content now, before that potential for investment is lost forever.

The BBC, as a public service broadcaster, does not face the same commercial pressure as its competitors, but works in a climate of finite income, stretched more thinly across an ever-expanding range of "services". A report published recently by the Policy Exchange think tank has questioned the determination to offer iPlayer, Freesat, and Project Canvas on non-commercial terms, which not only stretch the BBC’s own resources, but damage the open market. It’s time to prioritise the licence fee for programme-making and genuinely original content, which has traditionally made the BBC and British television distinctive and worthy of preferential funding.

It needn’t be expensive. BBC4 is a model of low-budget, original programming, admirably upholding the Reithian ideals of both entertainment and education. This channel shows what can be done with talent and a will.

With proper investment, Britain’s original comedies and dramas can be the envy of the world; individual writing voices and diversity of subject matter - vital to our nation’s culture, education, and entertainment – should be encouraged. Do not allow our unique heritage and identity to be eroded. For the sake of both our cultural and financial future, save scripted television content.

Gail (right) with fellow Guild member Jayne Kirkham and actor David Tennant at the Performers' Alliance parliamentary lobby


  1. After a long time i found a blog which i read thoroughly . Thanks Gail Renard.

  2. Anonymous5:48 pm

    This is such a clear concise document outlining the problems that this industry is facing. Last night I watched an audience watching a festival of new writing - in which my play was one. They loved the mix,lapping up the variety of drama and comedy that is becoming so short supply on television. Long live scripted entertainment.


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