Feeds

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 …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

Page:

Bronze badge

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

I LOLed. Not done that in a while, thank you both.

0
0
Silver badge

More stuff, quickly

> BBC or ITV doesn’t spend enough

In recent years the pattern for british drama has been one of short-run series: maybe 3 * 1 hour episodes. That has two big problems. The first is that setting up a TV series is expensive. Before you start filming you have to assemble the "team", make all the props, get studio space/locations, create the basis for CGI and budget for the show's eventual promotion and advertising. A lot of those costs are more-or-less constant whether you make 3 episodes or 20. However, if you only make a few, then those costs have to be amortized across the small number of episodes, making each one appear more expensive - the opposite of an economy of scale.

The other basic problem is that with gazillions of TV channels, there's a need for LOTS of stuff to fill the empty voids between advertisements. 3 episodes just won't hack it - and is difficult for the schedulers to fit in to a format that's designed around "seasons" of 10 or 20 episodes - and therefore difficult to sell to them.

A big reason for these issues is the way that british dramas are written and produced. Over here we tend to treat them as hand-crafted works of art. Great when they succeed, but an expensive and inaccessible mess when they don't. Other places tend to productionise the writing - with a team of scribblers who contribute a part to each episode - which gives them depth and variety, rather than the monoculture and superficial characterisations that our lone-writers don't have the time (or ability) to incorporate.

It could be that the biggest technological boost we could give to TV drama production is to find ways to enable a group of writers to work together (assuming you can get past the diva effect). You'd think that with all the tools available for softies to write code in a collective and collaborative way, that there'd be solutions for authors, too. Maybe they are just too stuck in their own ways to look over the parapet - or maybe they just like being the queen bee.

3
0

As William Goldman said...

...of people in Hollywood - "Nobody Knows Anything". I admire how Mr O is bringing this ethos to The Register.

8
0
Silver badge
FAIL

Piffle

The trouble with US TV content is that it all looks and sounds the same. Audiences here in Aus seem to like US crime dramas based on the same tired formulae so that's exactly what they get. Endlessly. Repeatedly. Relentlessly. Then it's repackaged as CSI This and CSI That.

As for "overlapping dialogue and sound effects", that's just fancy packaging of thin content to distract pretentious reviewers. Good drama is based on a good story, not tinsel.

Worst of all is that US accents annoy the fuck out of me.

12
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: Piffle

> Then it's repackaged as CSI This and CSI That.

Something struck me about CSI, NCIS, House and all the rest. In any given episode a problem presents itself, things look bad for the heroes, there is a sequence where the heroes do something technical set to music* and then the problem is resolved.

Isn't that just The A-Team?

* Some of which is surprisingly good and often worth watching the show for.

5
0

Re: Piffle

Nope, it's the very definition of a procedural show, which they all are & the production of which the US have got down to a fine art.

1
0

Re: Piffle

I thought the A-team format was more: problem presented, team seem to fix problem, turns out there is a bigger problem that team missed, team fix bigger problem

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Piffle

Actually, it's the formalist's description of a drama which is the strive to restore the equilibrium lost at the start. The mystery ties in nicely to the human penchant for hypothesis (an essential part of processing language, trying to work out what's coming next). But, basically, we all want to see "John Wayne coming to save America at the last minute". To this American productions add the magic dust that America, even if, or perhaps because, it's just small-town Kansas, is the world.

Of course, it's the subversions of such productions, exemplified by Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In The West" which are so much more interesting. But people aren't interested in, er, interesting. They want fast-food in a fancy box.

0
0
Silver badge

@arbee Re: Piffle

I thought the A team format was: improbable problem, client mysteriously ignores opportunity to go to police, catch phrase, team argues, catch phrase, lunatic expenditure of ammunition & explosives with no fatalities, team argue, more mindless wholly ineffectual violence, catch phrase, catch phrase, I wonder what the hell just happened.

0
0
Headmaster

Gina McKee

..is (was) in Line of Duty. Not Blackout. Unless she had a small bit part while I was out getting a coffee.

2
0

Occupation

One of the best bits of British drama I've seen on TV for some time was "Occupation" some years back. If you didn't see it, go and find it. I was skeptical, thinking it was just another James Nesbitt vehicle, but it turned out to be an excellent and gritty depiction of the fuck-up that is Iraq.

0
1

The Americans like "local content" as long as they don't have to understand local issues or references to people they've never heard of. That's why period drama works, because they've heard of a few royals and Winston Churchill, but they don't want to be troubled with anything more recent.

That's why they remake "Life on Mars" and dozens of other British shows.

1
0
Thumb Down

What do I think?

I think you're being extremely unfair and making a bollocks comparison, is what I think.

If you want to compare all British TV drama output against all US TV Drama output, you'll find there's an absolute wagonload of complete shite that the Yank stations churn out year in, year out, because they have tons of channels that need to be filled with Exclusive To Us content.

You can't just cherry pick the best handful of US dramas from the last decade and use them as the basis for moaning about the state of UK TV output. But then again, given that you've in the past suggested that the licence fee is inherently demonic and we should all want a more American television system (because that's what I want, less funding for any public interest content and more adverts, not to mention billions more channels showing reality-television shite because That's What Gets Viewers) I'm not entirely surprised....

16
0

"If you want to compare all British TV drama output against all US TV Drama output, you'll find there's an absolute wagonload of complete shite that the Yank stations churn out year in, year out, because they have tons of channels that need to be filled with Exclusive To Us content."

Not...really, actually. The U.S. doesn't have many more major channels/networks that produce original drama than the U.K. does - the major networks, a couple of second-stringers, and a couple of special interest channels like the 'sci-fi' channels. That's really it. The U.K. has much the same with the terrestrial channels, Sky's marquee channels, and a few similar special-interest channels.

The other seventy jillion channels in your typical U.S. cable package, just like on Sky, are sports, lifestyle and repeats. No original drama on HGTV...

1
0

Perhaps everyones sick of fucking period dramas and fucking cop shows.

I demand more sci-fi for my license fee. Crowdsource the computational requirements to save money. I'd happily let my computer render a few frames a day to make something decent to watch.

Just keep the Dr Who writers away from it.

9
2
TRT
Silver badge

Meh...

you've got to make drama now for the Doctor Who actors to do. (1) they can't risk being typecast (2) they have half a year of down-time and you want to keep them on the payroll.

1
0

TV Drama

"I can’t remember a British one being interesting enough even to worth a mention"

Did you miss 'The Shadow Line' or both series of 'Luther' on the BBC?

More recently, 'Hit and Miss' from Sky..

There's lots of good British drama, that just doesnt get the chance to shine.

2
0

Re: TV Drama

The Shadow Line?

Was that the one in which a bomb exploded, powerful enough to blow the windows out of a clock shop, and both people in the shop stood up, brushed the dust off themselves and left? The one where there was a fight and one person was hanging from a light fitting while another person tried to kill them? (2 core cable, you know, those ones held up by two tiny brass screws.) The one where the villains smuggled heroin into the country by hiding it in the stalks of cut flowers? The one with the 'so-scary-he's almost-comedic' hit-man? The one where EVERY copper was bent and all the villains were scared of the missing crime lord's camp son?

I didn't like it. Too far fetched.

3
0

You didn't like it...

But clearly watched most of it. Personally I liked the unrealistic bits - all TV drama is unrealistic, so occasionally it's nice to see a show embrace it so fully,

0
0
Unhappy

Re: You didn't like it...

Well I wouldn't have commented on it if I hadn't watched all of it. I know what commentards would say.

I also watched the one John Simm and Jim Broadbent were in. (Exile. Thanks Google.) That one was even worse! It took the 'art' of coincidence to a new level. E.G. Simm is looking through many boxes of his old cassette tapes and finds a party mix from twenty-odd years ago. As he listens to it the music cuts out and is replaced by voices that DISCLOSES IMPORTANT PLOT INFORMATION. He peels the label from the cassette and underneath is a second label that DISCLOSES IMPORTANT PLOT INFORMATION.

I, however, must be wrong about these dramas. They got glowing reviews in the grown-up newspapers. Maybe because both had characters suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Must be the sympathy vote.

0
0
Happy

Each to their own

Personally, there is a lot of TV drama that I don't watch - US / UK doesn't really matter, I'm more interested in the content. I have to say that I can't remember anyone talking about a US drama in the office except when they were commenting upon how dreadful it was; but then that's probably just me.

The last US series that I enjoyed was "Modern Family" - some really interesting concepts and a little bit edgy, I'm surprised that they got away with making it as US TV is usually not happy at being that far out on the edge.

Waiting for the next season of "Downton Abbey" - or as Graham Norton described it "The Only Way Is Berkshire".

0
0
(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

One or the other or both

You're right.

Apparently. she comes back to life in the sequel to both, Blackout Duty. Exciting!

0
0
Anonymous Coward

There is going to be less money in TV production in the coming years, not more. Blame the freetards who believe that piracy doesn't hurt anyone and that you can pay several million in production costs with Doctorow "whuffie".

The real secret is to avoid making the sort of content that nerds like - that way you've at least got a chance of having an audience that will pay for your content - something that a lot of nerds think that they should get a pass on because they know "advanced internet"

5
5

Para 1: Piffle & poppycock. There will be less money in TV production, because people are moving away from watching broadcast television, which takes major advertising dollars away. Plus, as more and more of the remaining TV watchers use time-shifting devices (DVR ala Tivo) it is easier to skip commercials, also devaluing advertising time.

Para 2: That's about right, but not because of file-sharing is that the more intelligent a program is (the "nerd appeal") the smaller your target audience is.

2
0
TRT
Silver badge

Blackout

Was dreadful. I was laughing my arse off at the terribleness of the first episode, which I made it half-way through before I had to turn it off as it was making my ears bleed. The last episode, I did kind of watch ten minutes of before I was asleep. It was well acted and well produced, but virtually plot-free. Well, OK, it had a plot, but it lacked a story.

0
0
Bronze badge

You can see this in films too

... starting with the original Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Strange cities that are American but have Brits in them, or vice versa, or American Brit cities where everyone somehow manages to be unemployed or a teacher or something, let live in a huge townhouse in the nice part of town.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: You can see this in films too

The original "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was filmed in Munich. You can even see the city's famous Frauenkirche in one scene.

That's a bit like setting something in "London", but catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the background...

2
0
Happy

Re: You can see this in films too

"That's a bit like setting something in "London", but catching a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in the background..."

That must be Blackpool Tower, silly...

1
0
Meh

The Wire

People go on and on about it, and honestly, I've tried over and again with The Wire, but I still just don't get the praise and fuss lathered over it.

I normally ignore stuff which is massively popular, and then review it once the hype has died down, and often then end up liking it, but I just can't get into it. Am I alone?

2
1
Silver badge

Re: The Wire

was a monumental piece of TV. It's really a 50+ hour film.

Surprised no one has mentioned "The Shield"

1
0

Re: The Wire

Its a slow burning thing, so you have to watch 2 or 3 at a time.

guess its a bit of a love it or hate it thing. i recently discovered it and watched all five series in about a month.

you of course have to have the next episode available and no ads. eg DVD

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Hawking for Sky are we?

Are you insane?

Most american 'drama' is histrionic claptrap, drawn out and watered down over 100 episodes of dross until it fizzles out. Whereas most UK drama is compressed and concentrated, giving quality over quantity.

Give me three Sherlocks over an entire year of american drivel .

Remember what happened to Torchwood when they attempted to go downmarket and americanise it - boring drivel.

Stop playing up poor quality american series - recognise them for what they are, a tolerable premise spread too thin, too slow, too crap.

There's nothing from the US over the past five years that wasn't a waste of too much money.

16
1
Thumb Up

Re: Hawking for Sky are we?

+1

A good example can be had in the form of Torchwood. Mostly dreadful shite (I tried one or two episodes from the first and second series, and couldn't stick through either of them), so far so unremarkable.

Then the far-better-than-it-had-any-business-being Children Of Earth miniseries came about, and was excellent in no small part because it was allowed to be nasty and allowed to be short. That did so well that a fourth series was commissioned, with at least half the funding & development coming from some US studio (Starz, maybe?). They then took an idea that was sort of on the same wavelength as CoE, but made it drag on for far longer, and produced a resolutely mediocre load of turd as a result.

If you're going to champion US dramas, you have to acknowledge that most of them happen despite the US television setup, not because of it. As someone else has said, the cable networks operate on a system that's somewhere between a licence fee and a patronage mechanism, and they are more often than not where the stuff that gets critical acclaim is generated.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Hawking for Sky are we?

> UK drama is compressed and concentrated, giving quality over quantity.

So are OXO cubes, but you wouldn't want to eat them out of the packet. The problem with british dramas is that they don't give themselves the space to develop interesting characters. By only having a small amount of time to fit in all the exposition, development, twists and conclusion british writers tend to skim over the bits that make a story interesting. It's a bit like reading a Cliff's Notes of a classic text, rather than reading the original yourself. You get the basic story, but none of the nuances and depth that make it enjoyable.

Oddly, a lot of films manage to squeeze in more dimensionality in a couple of hours - but that might be because they apply more bodies and more skill (as well as more money) into getting the whole package presented to a viewer - or it might be because they focus tightly on what's important, rather than indulging the writer's whims, meanderings and biases.

2
0
Silver badge
Flame

Re: Hawking for Sky are we?

"Most american 'drama' is histrionic claptrap, drawn out and watered down over 100 episodes of dross until it fizzles out."

American TV networks don't understand the concept of quitting while you're ahead. If they have a cash cow series or franchise they'll milk it until only the bones are left. Then they'll milk it some more. Thats why we ended up with the excrabale Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise, why Two and a Half Men should be done under trades discriptions as its been going so long it should be called Theree Men, why Stargate is still searching the universe in search of an original plotline that wasn't done in the original series, why Desperate Housewives ended up as Menopausel Housewives, and why The Mentalist which started off as a damn good series is slowly descending into Been There Done That territory and just rehashing itself. And there are 101 other examples.

6
0

Re: Hawking for Sky are we?

Actually 'raw' OXO cubes used to be lovely before they changed the formula a decade or two back. They use to become nice and goo-y in the mouth, now its just seems to be powdered rat shit.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: Hawking for Sky are we?

I agree - I don't eat half as many raw Oxo's since they changed the formula. Still occasionally for the salt/flavour rush. Nothing before or since make the mouth water to the same extent.

1
0

Re: Hawking for Sky are we?

"American TV networks don't understand the concept of quitting while you're ahead."

I'm sure they do. They also recognize that applying gambling concepts to making money off advertising (er, television) doesn't make much sense.

They're businesses. Their job is to broadcast shows which have a high ratio of viewers to cost. Ideally, young, spend-y viewers. That's how they make money.

It's always cheaper to keep making an existing show than to start making a new one. You can bet your bottom dollar that at every major network HQ they have a big line graph which illustrates the precise amount of viewers an existing show in a given timeslot has to fall below before it makes sense, economically speaking, to cancel it and take the gamble of running a new, unproven show in the same timeslot - and that number is quite low. As long as CSI: Dakota is still being watched by X million people, the network is making money and is happy. They don't give a toss if it lost all artistic value six years ago.

Basically - if you want a show to get off network TV in the States, _make people quit watching it_. That's all the network cares about.

1
0
Bronze badge

ITV are almost scared of taking a risk, relying instead on trash and "a flash or camera angle every 5 seconds" reality talent shows.

These things are cheap to make and bring in the audiences, advertisers love it as they can peddle their wares to a likely impressionable audience ("latest must have" teens etc.).

I think it almost shocked them that Downton Abbey became a success (though in part to it being scheduled right after x factor to hook in those who couldn't be bothered to reach the remote).

The BBC has some quality dramas - Silk, Sherlock, Silent Witness, Ashes to the belated Spooks.

Even Holby City is looking more like ER and less like casualty.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Not just the British dramas

The documentary strands used to be excellent. Now we have almost entirely either so-called docu-dramas, which I haven't seen a single one that isn't irremediable shite, presumably because they're catering to the same demographic that, for instance, won't watch anything made in monochrome, or read a book that isn't 'contemporary' chick-lit, involves murders, or Harry Potter or, virtually regardless of presenter, at some point involves them firing a machine gun, which seems to me to be catering, if not to the presenter's desire to get paid to play around doing 'cool' stuff, then again to the males of the aforementioned potential audience who will only watch a film involving tough guy talk, explosions, shooting, car chases and so on. As such almost nothing produced by the Beeb (the commercial channel output having being so dire for so long they're no longer even worth considering - except, perhaps, when they show US drama!) is of any greater value than the endless brain-dead reality tv all channels pump out these days.

As for the BBC ads for itself, why do they constantly advertise what is on next? Assuming there is a sane, logical reason for it, one can only assume it is to entice the types who would turn over if not subjected to hype? When I'm subjected to hype, I turn over, or off. Same with BBC News, the interminable self-aggrandisement on the hour, every hour; again, I turn off. Or to Sky News. ITV has always been shite; now it is comatose and the BBC is as sub-standard as ITV used to be when it had some sort of intelligence at the helm. Channel 4 was bloody brilliant when it began, a worthy rival to BBC2, but it too is now clogging up the sink, waiting for the plunger to put us out of it's misery.

Quality plummeted with Thatcherism and her basic tenets still rule the career politician (Thatcher's Children) and money is all that matters in the UK now. We're in the age of gambling as exemplified by the numerous lotteries. British Society has all but been destroyed by the greed she and her disciples - such as Blair and Cameron - thinks is good. And the types who ended up running the BBC and Channel 4 were the likes of Michael Grade and Greg Dyke - from ITV and Channel 5 (who'd a thunk it!).

I'm surprised Alan Sugar didn't get DG. Or Simon Cowell. Or whatsisname Waterman.

Howabout Saturday afternoon, when we have just had the Euro 2012's, the Wimbledon, and the Olympics about to start, and in the fortnight breathing space between Wimbledon and the Olympics there is athletics, golf and motor racing on BBC1, BBC2 and BBCHD (while BBCs 3 and 4 aren't on air for several more hours, so watch commercial tv repeat drivel - or fuck off, appears to be the message from the national broadcaster. I choose not to renew my tv licence).

3
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: Not just the British dramas

I nominate you for the Reg's "Most Boring, Rambling Post of the Week" award.

And whilst I'm here, is there an equivalent to Godwin's Law that applies to irrelevant mentions of Maggie?

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Not just the British dramas

You're either a Tory, or weren't old enough to get it at the time.

1
1
Holmes

Re: Not just the British dramas

Looking for good quality documentaries? Look no further than BBC 4.

And may I compliment you on that open sentence, it really was a doozy.

0
0
Silver badge

You may have a point...

I was trying to think of the last BBC drama I enjoyed watching... Might have been Ashes to Ashes.

Now what about the last US one... Prison Break was great. I can't wait for Dexter to return. Heroes, was fun the start with, then I'm not sure what happened to it. I think the BBC moved the time slot, I missed bit, decided to catch up "on-line" and ended up watching a different series and totally baffled!

CSI is a bit, well, tired now, and I sometimes have a hard job turning off my "WTF are you talking about" reality filter when they make some ridiculous scientific or technical claim.

The problem is from over here in the UK we get to see US drama through rose tinted glasses. I really only get to see what the UK TV companies have passed. There are certainly still plenty of crap ones where they expect the audience to have the attention span of a gold-fish. The advantage the US has is it has far more milk being produced, so more cream available for export.

0
0

Re: You may have a point...

Prison break was the classic example of flogging a dead horse. They should have stopped after Season 1.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

What happened to Heroes?

Sky did what they do best, they stole Heroes and used it as vehicle to get mugs to sigh up to them. Thank god for torrents.

0
0
Bronze badge
Flame

Re: What happened to Heroes?

No. All four seasons of Heroes were screened on BBC2. You just had to wait a couple of months after it was shown on FX.

I think you meant to say "thank god for torrents as I'm too ADHD/self-entitled to accept deferred gratification."

0
0
Bronze badge

British TV drama *is* crap

... when it tries to be American TV drama, and vice versa. So homegrown attempts at something like The Wire are shite, and US versions of Life On Mars are shite.

3
0
Facepalm

British drama terrible

Which will be why Downton Abbey is up for more Emmy's than I can shake a stick at then?!!

0
0
Bronze badge
Meh

Drama

I know it's not real in any case so don't care and no longer waste time watching. Documentaries are where it's at.

0
0

Page:

This topic is closed for new posts.