How to make a flop

`Crown Prosecutor' should have been the BBC's big new hit. But it's a turkey. What went wrong? Sue Summers reports

THE STATE of BBC1's new drama series Crown Prosecutor is comparable to one of the urban crimes with which it purports to deal. The brick has been heaved through the plate-glass window, recriminatory sirens are wailing on all sides and every culprit is protesting innocence.

"Nothing to do with me, guv," says the BBC's head of drama series, Nick Elliott. "I was miles away," says his predecessor, Michael Wearing. Crown Prosecutor's main writer and co-deviser, Nick Collins, is maintaining his right to silence. Executive producer Tracy Hofman is holed up in a safe house and plans a new life outside television. The only people willing to have their collars fingered are producer Esta Charkham and executive producer Caroline Oulton, who plead not guilty to all charges.

Crown Prosecutor, based on the workings of the real Crown Prosecution Service, began on BBC1 at peak time, 8.30pm on Thursdays, at the end of last month. Its first 30-minute episode attracted ridicule and vituperation recalling the great days of Eldorado, the corporation's disastrous and expensive soap-opera flop.

"BBC1's stolid refutation of the adage that `you can't go wrong with courtroom drama' finally hit the screen last night, and I for one would like to say thank you, thank you for a bloody good laugh," wrote Lynne Truss in the Times. The series looked "like a badly acted employment-training video," noted the Guardian.

For a series allegedly based in hard-hitting realism - the creative team spent some time closeted with the real CPS - the duff lines come fast and thick. The dialogue makes Crossroads seem like Flaubert. The characters all use identical clich'd sub-CID vernacular: "If the defence wipe the floor with you, Marty, I reserve the right to say I told you so", "Listen, Derek, don't walk me around the garden on this one", etc, etc.

Thanks to characterisation of the same consistency as the cardboardy sets, few of the cast have won any compensatory plaudits. Paris Jefferson, as ambitious young prosecutor Nina Fisher-Holmes, seems in danger of being out- acted by her lipgloss. David Daker plays Ben Campbell as a Northern stereotype who makes the ee-bah-gums of the Hovis commercial look like dirty realism. Actor Michael Praed gives womanising lawyer Marty James the same depth he brought to his most famous role, Prince Michael of Moldavia in Dynasty.

But for the wildly complicated plot lines, all this would find a natural home in mid-afternoon - especially played in an Australian accent. But by scheduling it in a high-profile evening slot, the BBC has yet again exposed its deficiencies as a maker of middle-of-the-road, popular drama, a genre over which it once reigned supreme with such series as All Creatures Great and Small, Bergerac and Howard's Way. ITV now leads the way.

"I just watch Crown Prosecutor and think, `ITV could have done this properly'," confesses one BBC drama producer. "If this is the kind of drama we really want to make, why can't we at least do it well?"

Those who suspect Crown Prosecutor was thrown together in panic in five minutes may be surprised - if not astounded - to learn that it took four years to reach the screen. The series was originally commissioned by Granada TV, but turned down by the ITV Network Centre when it took over responsibility for commissioning the ITV schedules in 1991. The project's three devisers, independent producer Tracy Hofman, Caroline Oulton and writer Nick Collins, offered it to the then head of BBC drama series, Peter Cregeen, who said no. But in 1993, Cregeen was sacked and replaced by Michael Wearing, whose brief was to look for peak-time series to build on the BBC's few successes, like Casualty and EastEnders. Wearing, who has successfully pioneered half-hour drama on BBC1 with the acclaimed medical saga Cardiac Arrest, liked what he saw. Given the perennial appeal of courtroom drama - and the gaping hole in BBC1's schedule where popular drama should have been - the channel's new controller, Alan Yentob, gave Crown Prosecutor the go-ahead.

An additional attraction for Yentob was the project's cheapness. Each half-hour episode was to be shot in three days, costing just £130,000. The entire 10-part series could be delivered for not much more than one episode of a costume drama such as The Buccaneers. "Alan had his doubts, but these mainly revolved around whether lawyers were intrinsically interesting or not," says a BBC executive involved in the project early on. "The truth is that, like any other professionals, lawyers are interesting but only in the right scripts - even at £130,000."

What exactly happened to the scripts of Crown Prosecutor once in the BBC's hands is then a matter for some debate. According to the same executive, "The BBC let loose its researchers, who said the series wasn't kosher [authentic? politically correct?] enough, so it was changed." Tracy Hofman, a former head of drama at Carlton TV, was originally to have produced the series through her own independent production company, Screenage, but agreed to serve as an executive producer when the BBC decided to make it in-house. Just before the first episode was transmitted, she claimed publicly that the BBC had effectively censored aspects of the series deemed not to be "politically correct" - by cutting out a womanising Asian and an unsympathetic character in a wheelchair.

Unfortunately for Hofman, her remarks, which were seized on in the press, coincided with publication of the portentous BBC report "People and Programmes", which was lambasted for its politically correct view that BBC programmes were too "white middle class". Hofman's BBC contract was brusquely terminated and, with something of the aura of a media martyr, she is now planning a career in investment banking.

In fact, Crown Prosecutor's wooden char- acters probably had nothing to do with the dictates of PC. Caroline Oulton says the disabled lawyer was dropped because "both the writer and I were adamant that we didn't want an able-bodied actor in a wheelchair, and there wasn't time to do an extensive casting of disabled actors." The womanising Asian turned into Michael Praed for other reasons. "We saw a number of Asian actors who weren't right, then we had a chance to get Michael Praed. He's a bit of a dish and a bit of a coup."

An inherent problem with the Crown Prosecutor format is that it reverses the time-honoured principles of courtroom drama by seeking to make heroes and heroines of the prosecutors, the traditional baddies. So we see these "heroes" trouncing women for resisting imagined rapists, and Asians for violently objecting to public displays of Fascism. It's hardly a coincidence that ITV's Kavanagh QC, starring John Thaw, a copper-bottomed version of the traditional genre, has been an enormous hit.

Crown Prosecutor's further misfortune - one suffered by so much BBC drama recently - was getting caught up in the real-life tribulations that have wracked the corporation's drama department, creating a working atmosphere which one senior producer compares to "being caught in a howling gale with permanently moving goal-posts". In August last year, after barely a year in charge of popular series, Wearing was moved in favour of Nick Elliott, a recruit from ITV. So, when Crown Prosecutor was about to go into production, neither top executive was really involved.

Statistically, Crown Prosecutor may not look like a disaster. Its first episode attracted an audience of 8.7 million, thanks to a cunning afternoon repeat on Fridays after Neighbours, which pushed up the Thursday- night figure of 6.7m. By recent BBC standards this may look respectable, but it is far from Casualty's figure of 15.5m - and every frame of Crown Prose- cutor signals its desire to be another Casualty.

Many a series has begun slowly but built to huge popularity. If that should happen to Crown Prose-cutor, the BBC won't care a damn how many people write it off as Crossroads with wigs. "I'd much rather please my cleaning lady and the woman next door than Lynne Truss of the Times," says producer Esta Charkham. "My doctor loves it. My cleaning lady says it's a little difficult to follow, but she's sure she will get with it."

If the brick in the shattered window does turn to gold you can bet that the fleeing culprits will be back to claim the credit. !

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower