Real Style: Spare us the Aga dramas

After `Cold Feet', stand by for a whole spate of new programmes for thirtysomethings. Enough, says MICHAEL COLLINS

It was once the working class that provided the cliches in TV drama, when families sat around a table staring at a brown teapot, dressed in their underwear, eating fried eggs with their bare hands. Now it's the turn of the middle classes. What was at first heralded as a fresh approach to the form, with the arrival of Cold Feet, is fast becoming like so many other genres of TV drama: rather than imitating real life, it now merely emulates the dialogue and characterisation in other series in the genre. You just know that at some point, someone is going to mention olives, infidelity, and oh, the problem of finding the right school in a built-up urban area. Meanwhile, Paul Weller plays, pianissimo, in the background of the Shaker-themed kitchen.

Never let it be said that television doesn't know how to milk the life out of a successful formula, on the occasions when it stumbles across such a rarity. The approach that previously applied to docu-soaps and lifestyle programmes, that of reproducing them ad nauseum, is now being tested on the thirtysomething drama. The seeds of the trend were sewn with the success of the first series of ITV's award-winning Cold Feet. It spearheaded a style of contemporary, domestic thirtysomething drama - with a dash of comedy and the occasional dream sequence - that broadcasters have begun to clone at great speed and with great urgency.

This week, ITV unveiled a wealth of said programmes as part of the winter schedule. "I am particularly proud of the rich heritage which TV has built in drama," says David Liddiment, ITV's director of programmes, who commissioned Cold Feet when he was new to the job. It was part of a bid to take the network's image up the social ladder, into the homes of the middle-class audience, and down to a younger demographic. What began with Cold Feet, and the lives and loves of Greg Wise's Marshall - a 30- year old, Porsche-driving chartered accountant - and his Crouch End friends in Wonderful You, continues into the millennium. Get ready for new series of Cold Feet and Big Bad World. Transmitting in the new year are single films such as Reach For The Moon and Forgive and Forget. And the series Metropolis begins in the second week in January. This is a window on the world of a group of modern friends heading for 30, fast, in the city where the streets are paved with dreams, beggars and Pret a Manger sushi cartons. It's as though a Whit Stillman ensemble of characters had upped sticks, downsized and moved to London. "These dramas are not `easy'," claims Andy Harries, executive producer of both Cold Feet and Metropolis. "There are no vets and doctors. It's a mark of TV drama evolving."

But who are the people these characters represent? More importantly, exactly who is watching? What seems at first remarkable about the success of the genre, is that it is ITV that has cornered the market in it, within a schedule where Robson Green is as familiar a face as Trevor McDonald once was, cast as a doctor, detective, psychologist, soldier, cowboy builder and now fencing teacher in ITV's forthcoming The Last Musketeer. "I think these new dramas have come about because of a desire to refresh the channel and appeal to a younger audience without alienating the old," says Rob Pursery, executive producer on Carlton's Big Bad World. "They capture the fact that everyone is growing up late these days."

The success of these series is due in part to the fact that frequently, television's post-watershed, 9pm-on-the-dot slot, belongs to ITV because of past triumphs such as Cracker and Prime Suspect. (The axing of News At Ten gives new drama a clear run into the night). It was largely because of the insistence and persistence of advertisers that ITV laid down plans to target their drama at a younger, upmarket audience, that of the 18- 34 year olds. It was a move that could have seen their traditional mainstream audience dwindling, but in fact Cold Feet did bring in ratings and a younger crowd. Although, to a younger audience, any TV drama that doesn't feature crinolines or cobblestones may be welcomed as radically contemporary.

Oddly, all paths lead to This Life. The success of Amy Jenkins's chaotic, highly original drama of young lawyers inspired TV broadcasters to dramatise the lifestyles of similar characters several years down the line. When Gub Neal took over as head of drama at Channel 4 a couple of years ago, he claimed that it was time for television to move away from concentrating on working-class characters, as covered by TV soaps, and start looking at middle-class ones. Presumably, those who were in relationships, with careers, a mortgage, maybe a child, a pet, a Pep and a Tessa. The aim, he claimed, was to create a British version of thirtysomething.

American television was the first to discover the formula for this kind of drama a decade ago with the tales of Eliot, Melissa, Hope and Michael in thirtysomething. The recent news that Cold Feet - having been re-made and re-modelled with a stateside cast - was pulled from the US schedules after a couple of episodes, is therefore hardly surprising. thirtysomething was perhaps the only contemporary television series to sandwich dream sequences between depictions of the sturm und drang of modern American life. A life that was far removed from a Norman Rockwell tableau, but nothing like a Ewing feud on Southfork ranch either. It was as domestic as a soap, in a TV culture that had been characterised by soaps, but one in which middle-class professionals designed Carly Simon album sleeves, studied Saul Bellow novels for leisure, and all but came to blows on the subject of circumcision.

Just as thirtysomething was credited with defining an America of the Eighties, Cold Feet has been lauded for accomplishing something similar for Britain at the fag end of the Nineties. Here the themes are house-husbands, stolen kisses, infatuation and impotence, with Manchester providing the backdrop.

But do these dramas reflect their viewers' lives, or those of the TV executives who have commissioned them? It has become a truism within television, of numerous producers and commissioning editors, that the domestic impasse in which their own lives have stalled has become the gauge by which they judge the lives of TV viewers. Hence, female producers return from maternity leave ready to pitch many a series on childbirth. The husband hits 35 and gets a camera. Suddenly there is an abundance of programme treatments about photography. Before you know it, programmes overwhelmingly concerned with garden make- overs, cookery, cars and the changing of room interiors are clogging up the schedules. "I think that Big Bad World is an attempt to take the piss out of our behaviour and that of our contemporaries," claims Rob Pursey. "It sends up thirtysomethings and their insecurites. On the surface there is glamour but underneath it is panic. Our aim is to be satirical."

And so to a style of drama where there are indeed no doctors or vets, but a large amount of characters with media-related careers. In Big Bad World, Ardal O'Hanlon is a journalist on a men's magazine, and in search of Miss Right, with the assistance of his best mate, who works in advertising. In the forthcoming Metropolis, of the three central female characters, one is an agony aunt and the others have careers in politics. Whilst in Wonderful You, Clare is in publishing, Laura is an interior designer and Marco a chef. If there is a character to be found in a "realistic" drama that doesn't have a brilliant career and isn't middle class - culturally, anyway - chances are she will be vibrantly blonde with leather trousers, sunglasses and roots as dark as her past. Michelle Collins usually gets the part.

IF YOU'VE SEEN ONE, YOU'VE SEEN THEM ALL

Lovable Irishmen

Cute, clownish and unlucky in love - despite the fact that all female viewers would cheerfully leap into bed with them without a backward look.

Disappearing crowds

Hugely trendy bars where you can always get a seat.

Disappearing children

Tots seen only at breakfast, sweet in pyjamas or silent in buggies.

Oversized jumpers

Essential wear for wives, who are nonetheless fully made-up.

Drug-fuelled male bonding

Over a joint, preferably on a roof.

Unfeasibly large kitchens

The size of a football pitch and replete with, apparently, the entire contents of the Conran Shop.

Departing wives

Planning to dump the cuddliest male character in order to pursue career/less cuddly but more handsome man.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
Sport
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
News
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

    Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss