Roll, roll up, for the dope opera

MTV has found a way to stay ahead of the pack - a new drama about drug dealers

MTV reckons that if it wants to be down with the kids and remain the most-watched music channel among 16- to 24-year-olds, it has to stick its neck out. Hence the first-ever drama to be shown on the channel will be based, controversially, on the life and times of two cannabis dealers.

MTV reckons that if it wants to be down with the kids and remain the most-watched music channel among 16- to 24-year-olds, it has to stick its neck out. Hence the first-ever drama to be shown on the channel will be based, controversially, on the life and times of two cannabis dealers.

"It's a departure for us," says Richard Godfrey, senior vice president of MTV Productions Europe, of the "dope opera" - called Top Buzzer - which begins next month.

"From the early rushes, Top Buzzer looks like nothing else you'd see on TV, nothing like a BBC3 or Channel 4 show," says Godfrey, revealing precisely which channels he's benchmarking his output against.

Asked why the music channel has gone for drama he replies: "We've taken the decision to invest in original programme development in the UK and we need a balance of projects."

Godfrey describes Top Buzzer as "edgy comedy/drama" which will provide a counterweight to some of the more traditional territory covered by the channel. "This particular show is rooted in the music culture, its soundtrack is really important and there's an MTV spirit to it," he says.

Leaving aside the difficulty of defining exactly what the "MTV spirit" is, the idea that the show is "rooted in the music culture" is highly controversial because Top Buzzer is all about the lives and adventures of a pair of drug dealers. "It's based on a culture that exists and it's a perfectly justifiable one on which to base a show," says Godfrey. "It's the perfect time to do a programme about this because it's something people are confused about. People may know cannabis has been taken down a notch legally but they don't know what that means."

He's quick to add that the channel feels it must treat the subject of cannabis use "responsibly" and has lined up websites, helplines and a range of support programming exploring different views on drug use.

But he rejects the idea that a "dope opera" clashes with any image MTV might have as a squeaky clean broadcaster. The channel is better known for its HIV- and Aids-awareness campaigns and earnest young people interrogating Tony Blair on the rights and wrongs of going to war in Iraq than espousal of drugs culture. "I wouldn't classify the characters you see on MTV as squeaky clean," Godfrey says.

So he admits that the music industry is riddled with dope smokers? "You can't deny that," he agrees. "In The Streets' album every other line is about spliffing up. It's part of the music culture and why MTV is the perfect place to show such a programme."

World's End Productions - the production company owned by Johnny Vaughan, who served time for drug offences in his distant past - initially pitched the idea to MTV after realising the channel was interested in original, edgy programming.

The government may not be so sanguine about the subject matter, however. It reclassified cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug in January this year but production, supply and possession remain illegal. Only the penalties for being caught with cannabis have changed. Supplying cannabis still carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison but possession earns two years' imprisonment, rather than the previous five. For small quantities of the drug there is also a "presumption against arrest" if the offenders are adults, rather than those under 18 (who are deemed vulnerable and would normally be arrested).

That said, the Home Office insists: "It remains an illegal drug. In particular, the government intends to take a tough line with dealers." The very characters, played by James Lance (from The Book Group and Teachers) and Stephen Graham ( Snatch), who front Top Buzzer's cast of ne'er-do-wells. Former Happy Mondays member Bez, who personified the drug euphoria of the early Nineties, is also rumoured to be making an appearance.

Godfrey is hoping the show will be a hit among young British viewers and be exported to other MTV channels around the world - the liberal Netherlands are already planning to show it. A terrestrial channel could also choose to air the programme, just as Channel 4 picked up MTV's The Osbournes.

MTV won't say how much the comedy/drama is costing, except to suggest it accounts for most of the channel's original-programming budget this year. It's all part of a desperate struggle to stay hip and relevant in the increasingly cluttered world of digital TV.

With the launch of music channels by Emap and Sky in the past few years, MTV's USP as a music-video service has been seriously eroded. It sees original programming as a point of difference in the sector. During May of this year, when the second series of Dirty Sanchez was on air - featuring four crazed men inflicting various forms of mental and physical pain on themselves - MTV saw a 26 per cent rise in its ratings compared to the previous month. It remains the top-rated music channel, but Emap's channels, including Q and Kerrang!, are providing fierce competition.

The overall strategy is to move MTV "from being a back-to-back, music-video channel to a lifestyle channel". "We're very ambitious for this stuff," says Godfrey. "Mark Thompson [director-general of the BBC] quotes MTV in the US as one of the powerhouses of ideas. In a few years' time, we want him to think of what MTV in the UK is doing."

In the week that Top Buzzer debuts on MTV - at the end of November - the channel will launch another original series, America or Busted, which covers more traditional MTV territory as it follows the British band Busted as they try to crack the US market.

And that tide of creativity may already be turning - instead of MTV UK taking endless shows - including The Osbournes and Jackass - from its mother network in the States, MTV US has just ordered a series based on a pilot developed by the MTV UK team, featuring real-life families.

Not surprisingly, given the strength of the Bible Belt in the US, that show doesn't feature drugs, however.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links