Friday, 4 July 2008

Put your money where your mouth is

An interesting post over at I09 today, which excerpts a speech given by the BBC's Head of Fiction Jane Tranter, as she lauds not only the richly deserving "Doctor Who" showrunner, Russell T. Davies but Tim Kring's equally engaging US drama, "Heroes" for their risk-taking and speculative scope.

Fine words, but we don't necessarily seem to be reaping the benefits of this praise in our TV schedules, now, do we?

Given the choice between a speculative fiction pilot which might require a degree of sell over and above that of a normal show, and a more instant cop/legal/hospital drama with James Nesbitt or Tamzin Outhwaite, I think we know what the BBC would probably gravitate towards.

Indeed, given the relative under performance of ITV's expensive import, "Pushing Daisies" and the somewhat lacklustre second season of "Primeval", it's difficult to see that network straying far from it's staple diet of drearily predictable, dourly realist drama and comedy.

Yes, "Doctor Who" has been a huge hit, and "Heroes" has done a nifty job of getting almost as much attention, but they are still very much the exception in our TV schedules.

Is this a budgetary issue - Tim Kring's scale of production values don't come cheap, after all - or, as I rather more suspect, are we seeing a case of most TV decision makers having blinkers firmly affixed when it comes to commisioning SF, Fantasy and Horror on their channels?

SF doesn't have to equal ruinously expensive CG or impenetrable jargon - Steven Moffat's "Blink" is by some way one of the best new-"Who" episodes, and doesn't have huge set-pieces to set the accountant's hearts-a-flutter. The stock-in-trade there was character and concepts - two abstracts which are unlikely to be successfully created on a render farm of souped-up Macs just yet.

If networks cling to this notion that anything which doesn't get 10 million viewers from the outset is subject to immediate cancellation or, worse, banishment to the late night schedule hinterlands, we're never going to find anything worth watching on TV and will slowly leave it to wither and flounder in a sea of ever-decreasing reality pablum and generic procedural dramas so identikit that they make "Dixon of Dock Green" look like "The Wire".

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