Wednesday, August 22, 2012


After reading the comments about writers from New Tricks actors Amanda Redman, Alun Armstrong and Dennis Waterman on the BBC News web page, and writer and director Julian Simpson's wonderful four lettered sprinkled replies on Twitter, I experienced a moment of utter disbelief and anger. When I calmed down an hour later I looked at the actors' accusations a little closer and wondered where the true blame for bland TV might lie.

For those of you who haven't seen the article Amanda Redman and her fellow actors basically accused the writers of New Tricks of making the show bland.

My personal belief is bland TV does exist and is a problem. I would like to point out I'm not saying Amanda Redman and her fellow actors are right and New Tricks is bland TV, because to be honest I don't watch the show so I wouldn't know. That is for other people to decide and comment on. However, there's a perfect example in the form of another show I won't mention, which I'm extremely disappointed to see returning to our screens sometime soon. It is a very bland drama, one I will be avoiding at all costs. But is it wrong to blame the writers?

From my experience the majority of writers aren't bland and are fit to bursting with brilliant ideas. There are a huge number of exciting TV scripts out there, several of which I've had the pleasure to read over the years. They have been bold and brilliant and shows I would happily invest my time in if they were broadcast. Yet none of the screenplays I've read so far have been produced and broadcast. This seems strange to me when long running shows that could be considered bland keep being granted new series every year.

What I do know is what I like and what I hate. For example I loved BBC 3's The Fades. It was brilliantly bold and original and yet it was cancelled after its first series. It won awards, but even that wasn't enough to save it. Is that the fault of the writers?

Perhaps the blame for bland TV actually lies with the producers and executives that make the decisions, who are afraid to stray too far from what they know in case it fails and costs them their job? They don't want viewers to turn off and are afraid to offend or alienate.

Or perhaps it's the fault of the viewers who happily sit and watch dull TV because it's become familiar to them as an old sofa or a favourite mug? If only they would switch off and demand something braver, more daring, more original.

Or perhaps the blame lies with the critics who poo poo any show that dares to be different? What do they know anyway?

One thing I know for sure the blame can't be laid solely at the feet of writers, if at all. We have to look further to find where the problems really lie in TV drama and to simply aim these accusations solely at the writers of the show is both wrong and naive.

After all you have to remember that unless you're lucky enough to be Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat most writers have to do as they're asked on a show or they get booted in favour of someone who will do as they're told.


Lisa Holdsworth said...

As one of the writers accused of being 'bland', I suppose I better say something about this. There is a reality that the edges do soften and the jeopardy and stakes change the longer that a series runs. Initially, jeopardy comes from mortal danger, 'will they, won't they' romances and wondering whether the crime team are ever going to be able to get over the differences and solve the cases - you get the picture.

Three series in and your beloved characters have cheated death 20 times; your central couple have got together, split up and got back together again and they crime fighting team have solved every case they've been given. And so the jeopardy subtley changes to more nuanced stories about precious friendships, hardworn position and group dynamics. At that may mean that you don't have a fuck and a fight in every episode but it also doesn't mean that your audience are not engaged and invested.

In the specific case of New Tricks I would suggest that whilst we weren't sending the characters of the deep end every single episode, nearly 9 million viewers were still engaged in the subtle exchanges and valuable dynamic between the four main characters. And I would also suggest that we didn't pull our punches when it came to the subject matter of the investigations. I personally have written episodes that involved paedophiles, a blind arsonist, an Irish Republican terrorist, a Palestinian Freedom fighter, MI5, male prostitution, drug rape, arms dealing and a woman being eaten by her cats. Is that bland?

Dominic Carver said...

Far from it (especially like the idea of a woman being eaten by her cats).

But you're right, there is only so much character development and growth you can achieve in a long running series before things face the very real danger of becoming silly and laughable. Then you have to come up with new ways of taking your characters forward which might not be as obvious, or quite as dramatic as in previous series, but are certainly not dull or bland. You can't throw characters lives into chaos every week when you reach series four, five and six.

Dominic Carver said...

And of course I could have mentioned actors might be to blame, especially when they have been on a show for years and they're comfortable playing their characters. There's always the danger a little complacency might have crept into their performances.

But I thought that one would be blatantly obvious so didn't mention it before ;-)