One aspect of Tony Garnett’s criticism of BBC Drama which hasn’t really been addressed in the reponse is its over-reliance on ‘continuing dramas’ to deliver ratings.
As I’m sure I’ve said before, I have no problem with soaps, I’m a reformed addict, but I can’t help feeling that they aren’t always about actors delivering great performances or writers addressing issues in a distinctive and original way. They are too much of a sausage machine for that, and just as with sausages, a lot of the appeal is the fact that you know what you’re going to get.
But soaps have pretty much killed weekday prime-time television in the UK (by which I mean between 7pm and 9pm – a time when families might watch together). It’s either channels showing soaps or the other channels not bothering to show anything of any worth because there’s a soap on the other side. I mean, that’s fair enough for ITV, but I’m not sure it’s a good use of the license fee for the BBC to effectively ‘give up’ five hours of prime-time a week.
Of course, it’s all about chasing ratings, and that’s the problem, because it’s not about trying to get as many people watching a channel as possible, it’s about trying to get the same six million (or however many) people watching a channel as often as possible. Which is no good for the BBC, which has to justify it’s ‘reach’, and not much good for ITV; I’m sure advertisers would rather advertise once to twelve million people than than to the same six million people three times.
And by over-catering for fans of ‘continuing dramas’ – there’s no slots or money left for sitcoms, for dramas like Tenko or Bergerac, or shows like Tomorrow’s World or Top Of The Pops.