TV producer attacks BBC 'junk food' drama

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The Independent Culture

Tony Garnett, the veteran producer who brought Ken Loach's Cathy Come Home to television audiences and has worked with the BBC over four decades, yesterday launched a stinging attack on the corporation over what he called its "systemic" failure to commission quality drama.



The written broadside, circulated by email, was backed by some of the country's most senior writers including the playwright, David Hare, the television writers Deborah Moggach and Amy Jenkins, and director, David Drury.

Garnett, who production credits have ranged from Loach's gritty social drama, which was broadcast on BBC1 in 1966, to his film, Kes (after which the pair co-founded the film company Kestrel Films), said he hoped his words would lead to radical change in the organisation.

In his diatribe, he complains about the length of time BBC executives take from when a writer pitches an idea, to its eventual fruition, and the criteria they seek to fulfil, such as young characters, and he likened much of the drama on the BBC today to "junk food."

"Over the last decade or so the BBC, in perhaps its worst public service dereliction, has skewed its money and airtime decisively to wards high volume junk food which runs across the year. In addition to EastEnders and Casualty, it now has Holby City and numerous other lengthy series. There are very few single pieces or mini series, the kind of original writers' work which a voice can communicate directly with an audience," he writes.

Speaking to The Independent, he added: "My intention was to articulate feelings around in the community. I can see the damage that is being caused and the pain of a whole generation of talent…After writing my piece, which has circulated by email, I got a cascade of emails from so many experienced writers backing me or thanking me for writing it, and giving me long anecdotes about their own experience.

"It's not a matter of personalities…and this is not a personal complaint. You can't solve the problem by replacing people and certainly, the commissioning editors are not to blame. We are talking about the most senior management on the 6th floor. You need a deep cultural change within the organisation, which means something very difficult to senior management. They need to completely re-think who they are and what they are doing with the BBC…I don't think the senior management have any idea because the do not talk to the creative community. They talk to each other," he said.

In response, the BBC said it worked with hundreds of new and established writers every year. “Most recent examples are Peter Bowker's critically acclaimed Occupation on BBC One; Guy Hibbert's Five Minutes of Heaven on BBC Two; and Russell T Davies' Torchwood currently showing every night this week on BBC One.

We were delighted when the BAFTA's awarded best Single, Series and Serial to BBC output Abi Morgan's White Girl, Ric Cottan's Wallender and Peter Moffat's Criminal Justice, as well as naming Peter Moffat as best writer.” A statement added that next week alone saw the start of three new dramas, adding “each are full of creativity and individual voices."

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