LEADERS OF THE PACK / Soft hearts, hard news: TV Programme Of The Year

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IT SEEMS appropriate that as 1993 slips away, the head of Granada should be talking about his 'software products'. Formerly known as programmes, they suffered this year as all stations spoke the language of the market. I kept telling myself that creativity would out, but they have put a lot more bars on its cage.

Drama came off worst: the problem with playing safe is that you don't score many goals. We missed Alan Bleasdale like England missed Lineker. Dennis Potter's Lipstick on Your Collar (C4) looked a lot stronger in retrospect. His Master's voice is at least angry and distinctive, even if the record seems a bit stuck.

A certain daring was permissible, so long as it featured a detective. Between the Lines (BBC1) never got derailed by its freight of issues, while Jimmy McGovern's brilliant Cracker (Granada) gave Robbie Coltrane a part big enough for his talent. Danny Boyle's Mr Wroe's Virgins (BBC2) was an illuminated manuscript for directors wanting to learn about colour and composition. It yielded shining performances, particularly from Kathy Burke, my actress of the year. She played the backward Martha without ever drawing attention to her own virtuosity. A special mention to Alice Krige whose exquisite playing could not rescue the terminally dumb Scarlet and Black. Actor of the year is Jim Broadbent who can do anything but this time did joy-through-tears in Wide-eyed and Legless (BBC1), and left those watching doing tears-through-joy.

Courageously combining poetry and Alzheimer's, Tony Harrison and Peter Symes's Black Daisies for the Bride (BBC2) crossed many categories and scored full marks in all of them. My drama of the year is Roddy Doyle and Stephen Frears's The Snapper (BBC2, and now Electric video): for its unpatronising portrait of an ordinary Dublin family, for its capacious heart and sharp tongue, for catching both the bliss and the bollix of the human condition.

In comedy, French and Saunders (BBC1) reigned supreme, while Frank Stubbs Promotes was so funny and bracing it nearly made you forgive Carlton. My favourite short film was Robert Letts's Archie Gets a Clip (BBC2), a jaunty account of a Scottie's day at the groomers. If they can give Newman and Baddiel a series, they can certainly give Archie one.

It was another great year for documentaries, with welcome signs that the authored film was back in fashion. Michael Ignatieff's Blood and Belonging (BBC2) did a rare thing, showing you the presenter changing his mind as he went along. Howard Jacobson dazzled and infuriated in Roots Schmoots (C4), while Steve Humphries dusted down the image of oral history in his very own Labour of Love (BBC2). Denys Blakeway's elegant, wry Thatcher: the Downing Street Years (BBC1) gave its subject exactly what she had coming.

Bosnia inevitably threw up strong stories, and we watched reporters suffer and grow with it. Jeremy Bowen used to be the poor man's Tim Sebastian. In Unfinished Business (BBC2), as he scurried through the debris of East Mostar, he was at last his own - and our - man for the moment. The fact that Martin Bell's Sarajevo Panorama (BBC1) did not move official hearts proved they were made of stone. Bill Tribe's Sarajevo Diary was the most devastating film in the challenging Bloody Bosnia season (C4). First Tuesday (Yorkshire) was shamefully hacked down in its prime. The memories linger: who could forget Henry Wu electing to go back Inside China's Gulag with a hidden camera and an open disregard for his own safety?

My programme of 1993 is Molly Dineen's The Ark (BBC2). Dineen represents everything we stand to lose in the new time-equals- money television. She looks, she listens and finally she films, her subjects slowly unfurling in the warmth of her attention. Her study of London Zoo in crisis was a metaphor for the state of the nation, but it was never laboured. As the animals that are least popular with the public were taken away one by one, Dineen's humane eye threw down a challenge to Darwin: why should only the fittest survive, what about the shy ones trembling at the back of the cage? I cried helplessly at the scene where a shackled elephant, hooting with panic, was manoeuvred up the ramp of a truck: somehow, in this grim year, it brought home all those other terrified deportees. Molly Dineen could not make a software product to save her life.

(Photographs omitted)