Tuesday, April 28, 2009


A welcome re-run for Simon Burke's brilliant series from 2004. I have never understood why C4 always seemed ever-so-slightly furtive about this transatlantic romance. It is clever, witty, well-crafted in all respects and pretty much avoids all obvious cliches ... so why has C4 never shown it again (until now), particularly since it was self-evidently pretty expensive to make? Must've run up against Big Brother, I suppose.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Worldplay 2009

This year's international festival of radio drama (shamefully relegated to the World Service in the UK and then only released in meaningless dribs and drabs over several months) involves productions from Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the US and UK. The common theme is science.

The BBC starts the season on May 23 with a dramatisation from Australia of a Peter Goldsworthy novel. The BBC's own contribution will be Tim Crouch's England.


Friday, April 10, 2009

John August on writing scene description

Fantastic example from expert in the field:

John's blog is at http:johnaugust.com and is WHOLEHEARTEDLY RECOMMENDED.

Sony Awards - radio drama

The Sony Awards shortlists were announced this week. The winners will be revealed May 11 2009.

The radio drama shortlist is as follows:

Cavalry (Dan Rebellato) - BBC Radio Drama for Radio 4
Goldfish Girl (Peter Souter) - BBC Radio Drama for Radio 4
Mr Larkin's Awkward Day (Chris Harrald) - BBC Radio Drama for Radio 4
The Color Purple (dramatised by Pat Cumper from Alice Walker's novel) - BBC Radio Drama for Radio 4
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (dramatised by Andrew Lynch from the novel by Robert Tressell) – Above the Title & Woolyback Productions for BBC Radio 4

Note, only one independent production nominated, and the subject matter made that an obvious choice. I'm intrigued by Goldfish Girl, which I had not encountered before. Turns out it's an Afternoon Play from April 2 2008 with the following synopsis:

Joe can remember everything about Ally, the love of his life for ten years. Ally, however, can remember nothing about Joe.

Thus all the original plays nominated originated in the Afternoon Play slot. Good news.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

TV drama is crisis?

This from the Broadcastnow blog:

Jason Thorp, the FX UK managing director who helped bring The Wire and Dexter to British screens, reflects on how TV drama faces a challenging future.

We are busy preparing to launch True Blood this summer on FX, the latest big hitter from premium pay powerhouse HBO. It's somewhat of a departure from our last HBO pick-ups - The Wire and Generation Kill - in that it's pure entertainment, full of vampires, blood, humour and heaps of sex. The level of quality and diversity of content coming from HBO is a reflection of their good health as a business.

It's no secret that HBO, as a premium pay service, are afforded the luxury of indulging the likes of Alan Ball (True Blood, Six Feet Under) and David Simon (The Wire), allowing them to deliver on their vision relatively unimpeded. The Wire wouldn't have been commissioned, let alone make it to five seasons on a free TV network.

It's almost the perfect model, especially in a market where you have the critical mass in terms of premium pay subscribers required to fully finance high end drama. Something we haven't been able to do in the UK. That said, HBO only deliver one night a week with first run drama, even with its funding model, which I think illustrates just how difficult it is to support first run drama of any quality.

It's clear that the pay model is resistant to the impact of the recession. Even in the basic cable stateside, although the channels are more impacted by the advertising downturn because they take less per sub, the exposure is limited to part of their income. In the UK, Sky enjoyed an improved ARPU and an increased subscriber base proving that people are still willing to pay for their TV when times are hard.

This is all in stark contrast to the free TV sector around the world, which is fully exposed to the huge downturns in advertising sales. And what will go first? Naturally, the biggest per hour expenditure – drama.

Amongst the big networks of CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, I have no doubt there will be huge changes afoot. The current system, whereby pilots produced to potentially fill a single slot number in the double figures, simply isn't sustainable. That's just one side of it. Once you get to schedule, more often than not a show will be dropped after a handful of episodes if the numbers aren't hitting target.

Ad revenues across the networks, like pretty much everywhere else are in real trouble. If you add to that the disastrous state of the syndication market (where local US stations have been hammered by the demise of the motor industry), you have to wonder where US free TV drama will be in five years.

Unfortunately, digital media doesn't seem to be the knight in shining armour with monetization per set of eyeballs not close to that of the traditional models, and the likes of PVR viewing making it more difficult to make a free model work as ads are simply skipped.

Gap and deficit financing, pre sales and co-productions are one way to ease the pain. We've recently taken that path with 'The Listener', with FIC getting into bed with NBC, Shine Reveille and a Canadian broadcaster. But there is still resistance from many to give up full editorial control – too many cooks do often spoil the broth.

Already stateside there are moves in the schedules to reduce reliance on first run drama – for example the move of The Tonight Show. We're also seeing in the UK, with ITV looking to deliver a more cost efficient schedule with changes to the format of The Bill.

One thing that is for sure, it's going to get a lot more difficult for free TV to sustain high-end drama production, especially in a way that allows the creative freedom and expression that the pay sector affords.

FX still has the luxury to showcase edgy, clever and engrossing shows like The Wire, Generation Kill, Dexter and True Blood and not become figures obsessed. If we had not been there to fight for The Wire there is a chance that it would never have made it onto British screens.

Jason Thorp is managing director of FX UK and helped bring The Wire, Generation Kill, Dexter and now True Blood to British screens.

TV drama wishlist

BBC drama commissioner interviewed in Broadcast:

The BBC's top drama commissioner is happy to engage with his critics but won't be deflected from offering shows that appeal to all audiences.

Ben Stephenson's commissioning priorities

BBC1"For 9pm we're looking for 'ordinary lives' drama, pieces that will reflect people's real lives. We'll also be focusing on how we can reinvent genre drama like crime and to a lesser extent sci-fi."

7pm on Saturdays are full for the time being "but we are looking for colourful crime series for 8pm on Sundays."

BBC2 "We are going to evolve what we do on BBC2 a little bit [with dramas that are] author-led, ideas-driven and entertaining. What am I looking for? I like the word saga - something that takes a number of characters and follows them over a number of years."

BBC3 "BBC3 is one of the most important channels we've got and we're keen on bespoke drama [for it]. My number one ambition is to have three series a year at 9pm."

BBC4 "The key on BBC4 is that we give audiences something they can latch on to, but that we don't just tell a story because it's famous."

Period drama "We will always look to do something with an angle or that is surprising somehow. It's got to feel 'oh my God, I haven't seen that for ages' - not 'here we go again'."