Fear and Loathing At The BBC

Added on 07 September 2010

Interesting comments by Stephen Fry today about the culture of fear at the BBC. The culture of fear being that they're scared to make innovative and exciting programmes, rather than that they're scared of choosing the wrong thing for lunch or that they're scared there's a giant octopus going to clamp a sucker on their butt cheek while they're sitting on the toilet at Broadcasting House.

I disagree with Stephen Fry. I don't think there's a culture of fear. I think there's a culture of People Want The Same Shit Every Night So We Might As Well Give It To Them.

So far I've been to four different BBC drama writer's workshops this year. As well as having an alleged culture of fear, the BBC have a culture of promoting new writers, trying to get new and original ideas, that kind of thing. Unlike a culture of fear, this is fairly positive. During these workshops, by God do they bang on about originality? We writers sit there knowing that it's a load of pants, because how much originality actually turns up on the TV? One show a year maybe. But be original is stamped onto every forehead and is the constant cry of the script editor and development consultant.

There is much talk of Life on Mars, the poster child of original BBC drama these past few years, and about the need for more shows that meet that show's wealth of scriptwriting genius. However, there is a basic issue that is not addressed at the scriptwriting workshops, and that is whether the public actually want originality.

Maybe in general Life in Mars was popular, but Life in Mars is like sushi. (If you like sushi and you like Life on Mars.)

You go out one night, you have sushi for the first time, you think, that's really tasty, and probably a lot healthier than the pie & chips or pasta & chips or fish & chips that I usually eat. But do you suddenly start eating sushi every night? Of course not. Sushi becomes that special thing, the treat, the thing you want once every couple of months. Every night, you want your pasta or your chips or your pie. Your bread and butter. Despite the constant cries for originality at the BBC, there has to be some awareness that in general people don't want it. They don't want another Life on Mars, they want pie, beans & chips.

There's a reason there's the same shit on the TV all the time; there's a reason most of the movies currently playing at the multiplexes are remakes or sequels or prequels; there's a reason why people buy the Express every day so they can read that Diana is still dead, and they buy the Mail so that they can read about how shit it is to live in Britain, or they buy both of them to get a WWII DVD just to make sure that Britain still won, and they buy the Star so they can read that Jordan's missing Pete, or Jordan hates Pete, or Jordan is getting a tattoo of Pete on her absurd inflatable tits. Because they want the same shit every day. They want Wayne and Cheryl and fish & chips and Casualty and Simon Cowell and Jeremy Clarkson and pie, beans & chips and Holby and Eastenders.

If, at the same time as the BBC's next great original TV cop drama aired, ITV put on a new show about a grumpy middle-aged copper played by Michael Gambon, and set in Cambridge, with three academics getting murdered each episode, and a long-suffering sidekick that we know Michael Gambon really respects, and great British actors turning up every week who will always end up being the murderer, ITV would - as the young people of today put it - totally own the BBC.

I don't think there's a culture of fear at the BBC. I believe they're weighed down by the expectations of a public that want pizza, chips & peas for their dinner. Every night.