back to article Why British TV drama is crap – and why this matters to tech firms

It has been years since a contemporary BBC drama caused an office discussion round here. The best American imports such as The Wire and Breaking Bad are all regular conversation pieces but I can’t remember a British one being interesting enough even to worth a mention. And you’ll know why. They’re glossy, expensive and dreadful …

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WTF?

Nearly

On the whole a seemingly balanced article for a Change, up until the Google comment, you just couldn't resist!

As usual missing the point like the rest of BIG MEDIA, Google is simply a tool, it helps to connect consumers of content with new content quicky and easily! It even tries to make it easier for BIG media by providing You Tube through which tasters can be posted and which helps consumers identify similar content they might enjoy (that might be your content). But NO BIG media and their cronies see Google as the enemy, get some glasses and see the truth, wake up and smell the coffee!

Create good content and USE Google as a tool to connect you with new consumers (those that might not know or care about your site at the moment) and you will benefit, stop trying to fight Google, accept that yes they may make some money by placing an add beside the signpost they provide to your content, they need to have some return for providing the service unless of course you wish to pay them a commision for hosting the signpost?

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Childcatcher

Re: Nearly

Google makes huge bundles of cash from wrapping ads around other people's content. Much like traditional broadcasters. Unlike traditional broadcasters, Google hasn't been investing in producing original new content. Doing so would be a change in it's model, and no doubt upset the broadcasters because Google could afford a lot of hours of drama, if it wanted. It did do a future-Google product placement in Babylon A.D. after all.

As for the BBC, if you want to imagine TV hell, just imagine if the BBC had made Game of Thrones in it's usual PC focus-grouped to death and offend nobody house style.

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Stop

Looking in the wrong places

There is good drama on British TV you just have to know where to look.

I find many BBCs headline dramas (with the exception of the excellent Shadow Line last year)

derivative and as you say often 'made for export' but get off the beaten track away from

crime and kitchen-sink dramas and you have the likes of Sherlock, Channel 4's Misfits, BBC3's

Being Human and The Fades.

In addition for every Sopranos and The Wire US TV churns out plenty of dross.

Just look at Channel5's schedule and the turgid remake of The Killing.

Good drama doesn't need technology, just needs a bit of imagination.

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Re: Looking in the wrong places

"Just look at Channel5's schedule and the turgid remake of The Killing."

The Killing USA - Another hopeless US remake that takes a fine drama and turns it into tedious garbage. The US remake of Life on Mars was farcical. About the only think they got right was The Office and thats only because they had Ricky Gervais keeping an eye on them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Looking in the wrong places

The Hour, was particularly good.

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Re: Looking in the wrong places

I though last year's The Shadow Line was bloody good. (Right up until the end of the last episode when it suddenly put in a cretinous twist in the tale)

Anyway, Rafe Spall was utterly brilliant

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Unhappy

Re: Looking in the wrong places

Although sadly the BBC decided that despite being the best home-grown TV that year (not just my opinion; it won awards), "The Fades" wasn't worth a second series. Go figure.

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WTF?

British TV drama is NOT crap

Off the top of my head:

Hustle

Lewis

Red Dwarf

Life on Mars

Ashes to Ashes

Poirot

Case Sensitive

Spooks

All top quality dramas. And though not my cup of tea I'm sure a lot of women would vote for for Downton and Cranford.

Most american imports are sh1te. Just because 1 or 2 are good doesn't mean the rest are. Visit the USA and witness the 24/7 visual diarrhea that passes for TV over there.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

I couldn't agree more. What a rubbish article. British TV drama is, on the whole, excellent. The stuff they dish out in the states is pure drivel in comparison bar a couple of exceptions.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Red Dwarf?

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

But nobody has to watch the crap. I fully agree that the worst US TV is worse than the worst British TV - but who cares if we don't have to watch it?

And Red Dwarf is a comedy.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

And the others are period dramas. Apparently we do those very well, but I wouldn't know.

The OP missed the "contemporary" in "contemporary drama".

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WTF?

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

"The OP missed the "contemporary" in "contemporary drama"."

Tell me whats not contemporary about spooks or hustle for example?

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

"And Red Dwarf is a comedy."

Actually its a comedy sci fi drama.

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MJI
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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, possibly the best drama of the last decade.

Thanks for reminding me of Hustle

Sherlock is great, talking of how about the better episodes of Doctor Who.

Downton is good at what it does.

So possibly the best drama of the last decade, the best episode of a SciFi series, both British

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Pint

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

"Tell me whats not contemporary about spooks or hustle for example?"

Contemporary in theme only, as the BBC has since canned both of them, alas, and lets remember that both of them had been running for quite some time.

And where are the replacements?

The BBC do show flare on occasion (The Fades at least had an interesting concept), but they're increasingly poor at execution, expecially combined with limited budget (where exactly does the BBC tax go?). Largely, it boils down to the BBC using the 'same old names', not just in front of the camera, but behind it too, so very little fresh blood gets far, and generally new content gets to look like dull retreads As the 'same old names' tend to be luvvies too, the content tends to be a little too PC, and seldom much good because of it.

Let's raise a beer and remember that the best, grittiest episode of Spooks were right at the beginning, with torture and death using a chip fryer - even US drama is seldom that brutal. After that, it got toned-down. We have great actors, writers and directors out there, but it's a pity that the execs (on all networks) are too busy piling high the same old cheap, freak-show 'documentaries' and reality TV.

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Stop

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap, merely rarer than hen's teeth

All the programmes you list are quality, problem is they are largely old and infrequent quality, with the schedules infested with the tumbleweed of drossovision (property programmes, fat programmes, police camera crap, antiques roadshow/springwatch, autumnwatch, deathwatch). Look at the dates of first transmission of most of the highlights, and the majority are ancient:

Hustle 2004

Lewis 2007

Red Dwarf 1988

Life on Mars 2006

Ashes to Ashes 2008

Poirot 1989

You left off Torchwood, admittedly an acquired taste, but that was first broadcast in 2006, and finally became a ghastly combination of camp over acting, PC-gayness, and US dumbing down for BBC Worldwide's benefit, and I think that sad fate is looking worryingly like the Ghost of Christmas Future for all BBC drama. Sherlock is excellent, but the geological time scales they produce it on don't work for me.

When the Beeb do try something different (like the rather clever and novel Outcasts) they get cold feet if the ratings don't back them immediately, and run away crying. So if you're successful on a minor channel you might get pulled onto primetime despite a slow start, be "unsuccessful" in a botched prime time launch and it's instant death.

Message to Beeb: Stop filling the schedules with imported pants, and cut the budget for low brow dross like Holby or Beastenders. What happened to the hive of success that was BBC Wales?

<Foams at mouth and staggers off still ranting>

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FAIL

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Hustle - crap

Lewis - exceedingly boring police crap

Red Dwarf - comedy made over 2 decades ago, not drama

Life on Mars - good untill the last episode when they spoiled it

Ashes to Ashes - crap

Poirot - more boring detective crap based on some boring books

Case Sensitive - never heard of it

Spooks - watched the first series then realised every episode is basically the same, also the plots were ridiculous

Sorry don't see any evidence of top drama there. And don't mention the modern Doctor Who, there aren't enough vitriolic adjectives in the English language to adequately describe my opinion of that steaming pile.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

boltar wrote:

Off the top of my head:

Hustle

Lewis

Red Dwarf

Life on Mars

Ashes to Ashes

Poirot

Case Sensitive

Spooks

With the exception of Lewis, none of these are produced any longer, so where are their comparable replacements?

Or should we just stick with the repeats?

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

If you want to see really crap TV drama then check out the Free to Air offerings on Australian TV - mind you it's hard to find a complete programme between all the adverts. If you do the Networks will make sure you miss chunks by never keeping to any published time schedule.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Hustle - 2004-2012

Lewis - Current but weaker spinoff of Morse - 1987-2000

Red Dwarf - 1988-1999 for the main series

Life On Mars - 2006-2007

Ashes To Ashes - 2008-2010

Poirot - 1989-Now but just about out of Christie stories

Case Sensitive - Current

Spooks - 2002-2011

Not exactly a glowing endorsement for new drama on british TV.

There are really good, polished dramas being made, but not really much of the layered, clever, politically charged stuff the UK was once thought of for; GBH, Boys From The Black Stuff, House Of Cards, Our Friends In The North, Cracker, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Blue Remembered Hills, Singing Detective, Edge Of Darkness, etc, etc and before them the Play For Today and Wednesday Play Strands

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Devil

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap, merely rarer than hen's teeth

I am so glad to see that someone else shares my distaste for Torchwood's gayness. Especially when they converted Ianto from weird sexual taste (Cyberwoman) to weirder (Cap'n Jack).

OTOH, I have enjoyed both seasons of Sherlock (all 6 episodes!) and have recently enjoyed the complete David Tenneant years of Dr Who and am working my way through the 1st Matt Smith series.

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WTF?

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap, merely rarer than hen's teeth

"When the Beeb do try something different (like the rather clever and novel Outcasts) "

Outcasts was awful. Sci fi with barely any sci fi - just lost of interpersonal issues *yawn* and a "Lost" style invisible enemy - and made on a shoestring. It deserved to die. In fact it should never have been made in the first place.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Hustle, Case Sensitive and Spooks are "period dramas"? Eh?!

For that matter, the US has also produced period dramas such as Rome or Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Or there's Game of Thrones, which is near enough mediaeval period drama.

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Flame

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Hustle? HUSTLE? HUSTLE?!? That was utter, utter, utter, utter shite. I mean, really? Hustle? HUSTLE? etc

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap, merely rarer than hen's teeth

Nothing much clever and novel about Outcasts, unless you truly have no interest in sci-fi in book form. The only novel thing was the dreadful script, lousy plotting, cereal-box sets, and pacing that made glaciers look like Usain Bolt.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

On that note, The Wire and Sopranos both finished years ago, and I don't think Breaking Bad has much longer to run. So Andrew's examples don't fare much better.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Black Mirror was quite recent.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap, merely rarer than hen's teeth

Every episode of Outcasts was 'There is a major problem at the outpost; Cas and Fleur go for a nice walk"

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Black Helicopters

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Looking at the time scale, is this an increasing result of outsourcing to outside production companies, who have to make a profit to survive?

Add to your list, but not BBC, Primeval, a lot of fun but appears to be cut through production costs.

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@Boltar Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

And of your list, how many originated in the last 3 years?

I'd add Garrow's Law, BTW.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

How much is TV tax these days?

I haven't watched any TV for a while now so I forget.

It's not just drama that the BBC lost the plot to. It utterly fails in all its science stuff though it could continue cruising until the last tax payer puts the lights out on people like you.

It is that tax that is keeping the BBC going and it is that tax that is killing the BBC. It's like a dangerous, addictive chemical. They can't live with or without it.

I haven't got a license but I do get threatening letters telling me they have the power of intrusion into my privacy.

That alone would be enough to stop me buying into their tax shelter for morons and speed queens. They could save themselves the postage by allowing me to view the news every once in a while.

At what age does that become repetitive?

Soooo long and stanks of all the fish.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Hustle, Spooks, tripe, yes... Red Dwarf still produced but well past its prime.

Life on Mars was indeed fantastic, but I also found A2A quite enjoyable. I also defy anyone to impugn Agatha Christie...

And yes, modern Doctor Who is a self-parodying, CGI heavy, cynical shadow of its former, viewer-imagination-employing self. I'd rather have solid acting and wobbly sets than vice versa.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Trust me, British TV drama is NOT crap. It might not reach the level of the often cited The Sopranos but then few things do, even when it comes to the best US TV has to offer.

Unless you've tried Julie Lescaut (France), Inspector Rex (Austria/Italy), or El Barco (Spain) or indeed the stuff which doesn't make it outside the US because it really is crap then you don't know what crap TV is.

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Joke

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

shit!" i thought it was a realtiy show :D

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Coat

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

Red Dwarf is a documentary, surely?

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap, merely rarer than hen's teeth

OTOH

the article kept banging on about;

sopranos -1999 and

the wire 2002

And giving the credit to improved TV tech - i guess NICAM has been with us since the 80's!

the entire article is utter bollocks from start to finish

apart from anything else<cough>The fucking West Wing<cough> best drama ever - even had that special sound for the 0.n% of us that had Dolby 7.1 kit attached to our tellies at the turn of the millennium.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

George Gently was also pretty good

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Linux

Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

It seems like all of the comparisons are being drawn between UK "broadcast" and US "cable". Some of these American shows are on channels that most people don't even get. They 'realso are on channels with a different business model than nearly all other channels on either side of the pond.

Kind of an unfair comparison really.

If you have to use something from HBO to eviscerate Brit TV then you can't be doing too poorly really.

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Re: British TV drama is NOT crap

It seems like all of the comparisons are being drawn between UK "broadcast" and US "cable".

That's a vapid dichotomy. Most of the serious viewing public - ie, anyone who's going to be interested in watching TV drama in the first place - in the US have either cable or satellite, or get TV shows over the Internet. The demographic that wants to watch TV drama but only has broadcast is small and dwindling steadily. And since UK broadcast TV is a pay service, it's hard to see why this distinction would be relevant to the argument anyway.

Some of these American shows are on channels that most people don't even get.

Oh? Which ones?

As of 2007, cable TV penetration in the US was around 58% of TV-viewing households.[1] Add to that the considerable number of people viewing shows on other media - DVD or (legally or illegally) streaming or downloads - and it appears that a considerable majority of TV viewers in the US have access to everything but the "premium" pay channels (HBO, etc). While some of the shows mentioned by commentators (notably Game of Thrones) are on premium channels, out of those Orlowski mentioned only The Sopranos originated on premium, and it was then syndicated to non-premium channels (as well as being available on other media). And frankly I don't think Sopranos is necessary to the argument; it's just there because god forbid anyone talk about TV drama without paying obeisance to it. (I think it's overrated, personally.)

That's not to say I buy Orlowski's argument. I don't have a comprehensive knowledge of US or UK TV drama, so I'm in no position to judge their relative merits. But your counterargument doesn't hold water.

[1] http://press.xtvworld.com/article22012.html

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Thumb Down

Money doesn't matter.

The idea that you need vast amounts of money per episode to make "edgy" drama is utterly wrong. TV producers seem obsessed with blowing money on costumes, famous actors, expensive locations and silly effects.

Decent stuff can be made on a seriously-slim budget: look at something like Shane Carruth's movie "Primer" - which only cost a few thousand dollars to produce.

Independents are clearly the way to go - they don't have all the burdensome overheads of 'traditional' producers.

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Re: Money doesn't matter.

The arguement is that current BBC is crap precisely because it is entirely done by independents.

Instead of people who have been in the business for years able to match a screenwriter from coronation street with the director of Reggie Perrin and the camera crew from Life on Earth. You get a small company that needs to make a product fast, that needs to maximise returns so must have a global market and it must be fashionable enough that it will get good media coverage now - because all you have to care about is the current quarter, because thats all the funding you have. And their purpose in producing the drama is to be noticed so they can get a job in movies.

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Irony

The best US drama is commissioned and produced by the cable networks such as HBO. The irony is that their long term contracts with their viewers work in a similar way to the much-maligned licence fee allowing shows to develop over time rather than being pulled as soon as ratings do not meet expectations. This is one of the reasons why good screenwriters now seem to prefer TV over Hollywood, with its continued obsessions of novelty for novelty's sake, sequels, SFX and merchandising.

The production values of such shows are aligned both with those of Hollywood but also with the attention to detail that has been the hallmark at least of British historical drama and documentaries, which is where the BBC has traditionally been so successful internationally and for which it can more easily secure the necessary co-funding in advance. More contemporary shows are occasionally elsewhere but much more likely to be bought as formats (Life on Mars, Shameless) and done for the mass market, which disdains too much non-local locality.

This does suggest that the BBC needs to move away from the me-too crap that it produces to be financially successful. But the charter forces it to try and cater for all. Personally, I agree with you that the Greg Dyke race to the bottom serves no one - the great unwashed reads The Sun and enjoys scandal and sport - and that public broadcasters should concentrate quality* and innovation over repetition quantity.

*It has to come up with its own definition of such and stick to it.

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Stop

Re: Irony

"The irony is that their long term contracts with their viewers work in a similar way to the much-maligned licence fee allowing shows to develop over time rather than being pulled as soon as ratings do not meet expectations."

Umm, what? Let me email a few friends stateside, I wasn't aware that paying HBO became compolsary. And therein lies the differnce. HBO has to produce what people want (I leave debating if that is a good definition of "quality" to the reader), or lose funding. Many in the US already think they are not worth the money, and therefore don't pay. Try that with the Beeb and you'll understand why the license fee is miligned while an HBO contract isn't.

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Unhappy

I can't really comment.....

...as I havent watched any British drama on BBC or ITV is some years.

The same goes for comedy.

What I have seen on advert previews does look like flashy angles and lighting and little else.

What do we watch? Well all the US imports and a lot of the Euro imports such as Spiral/Wallander etc.

British TV is now largely irrelevant.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I can't really comment.....

You admit you can't comment, because you haven't watched anything other than adverts in years, and then comment that "British TV is now largely irrelevant".

Ummm.................

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Re: I can't really comment.....

You've been missing out.

LUTHER for example, trumps everything on AO's list of water-cooler TV shows.

Watch it. You won't be sorry.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Re: I can't really comment.....

I had Luther in mind when writing that, actually.

I watched it, wished I hadn't bothered.

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Silver badge

Re: I can't really comment.....

I loved it. Steven Mackintosh's portrait of a man falling apart at the seams in Season 1 is absolutely extraordinary and totally convincing.

Still, de gustibus non est disputandum so we can't really argue about that. I will say that the BBC's decision to only fund 3 episodes of Season 2 hurt it badly and I hope they don't do anything that foolish again.

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JFK

Re: I can't really comment.....

Emmy's nominations came out:

Luther 4 nominations

Sherlock 12 nominations

Downton Abbey 16 nominations

It not all crud in everyones eyes

#justsaying

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