Tuesday 20 April 2010

And cut

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the BBC made grown-up television dramas that used a scheduling formula which allowed, roughly, an hour per episode. This was because the BBC, unlike all other UK television channels, did not carry advertising.

Now the BBC has long been in the business of selling its dramas overseas, with mixed success. A few years ago, this policy became more aggressive; they got better at it, started making serious money from the sales of rights or - more usually - the formulas for shows like Life on Mars.

Serious money. So much of it that now the BBC appears to be deploying a scheduling formula which specifically accommodates the advert breaks preferred in countries like the USA, where TV dramas live or die by their ability to attract and retain advertising. Advert breaks aren't necessarily the enemy of TV shows, but ask any ITV producer who's seen his or her audience flip channels in an ad break and never return, and he/she will tell you - you'd better give your audience a damn good reason to return at the end of the ads, or to endure attempts to be sold Maltesers and car insurance while waiting to find out whodunnit or whowonit.

Which brings me to the editing in the current series of Ashes to Ashes. The odd stop-start, cliff-hanger-every-six-minutes style of the show, so different to the original Life on Mars. Why? Because they're selling the show to networks that have to give airtime to advertisers, that have to prove to advertisers that the show can sit comfortably as a showcase around the screentime the advertiser is purchasing?

This is not a rant. It's an observation. Watch any episode at random from the early series of Spooks, or Life on Mars. Then watch a recent episode. It's not, as I first thought, about the shifting age demographic and the notion of attention-deficit-programming. Or not only that. It's about breaking a show into chunks around which audiences can become the consumers needed to finance the networks who are broadcasting the shows.

It's not a rant but I do think it's a shame. Good TV drama, like a good book, has its own pace, its own rhythm. It should build, in layers, over time. Not panic and pant its way to conclusions against the clock.

If anyone reading this has the inside story, please share?

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