Broadcasting executives arriving for this weekend's Edinburgh Television Festival have been accused by senior industry figures of being gutless, lacking in innovation and never venturing out of London.
An eminent panel of detractors claims that pressure on controllers to deliver ratings is stifling creativity and leading to a dearth of creative programming. One member of the panel, Sioned Wiliam, the controller of comedy at ITV, has rounded on her colleagues to say that the broadcasting agenda was being set by "middle-class executives who never go outside London".
Her remarks were made during a debate on creativity in television organised by Broadcast magazine in London and reported today. Ms Wiliam said: "What worries me is the sense in which the agenda has been taken over by the critics and a lot of middle-class executives who never go outside London. In broadcasting there is this assumption that everyone is middle class, but they're not.
"A lot of people use television in an entirely different way than certain suited executives think. They turn to TV at the end of a long, sometimes miserable day's work and they want to look at someone's life or watch a programme that makes them feel better about themselves. If there's a bad episode there's a real sense of panic. There's a lot of insecurity ... I really feel that sometimes the joy has gone out of programme-making."
Ms Wiliam's boss, David Liddiment, ITV's director of channels, gives the central address at the Edinburgh Television Festival today. Controllers from the other channels will all be speaking at conference sessions. ITV was not commenting on Ms Wiliam's remarks last night. A spokeswoman said: "These were personal remarks."
But her criticism was echoed by Verity Lambert, one of the most distinguished figures in television drama, who recently produced Jonathan Creek and The Cazalets. She said: "In drama and comedy there is very little innovation and a great deal of copycat programming of the worst possible kind. What's happening now in drama is pretty depressing. You see the same writers and the same faces ... I caught four minutes of something on the BBC which I thought had really reached an all-time low, and that was Celebrity Sleepover. It was dreadful.
"Controllers are terribly out of touch and don't have any respect for their audience. They are frightened to take chances and let something have enough time. People have forgotten how to use their instincts."
Peter Bazalgette, the creative director of Endemol TV and one of the main figures behind Big Brother, said he was extremely concerned that the debate in political and regulatory circles revolved around technology and not content.
Ms Wiliam claimed that the obsession with new media was another London concern. She said: "My parents have never heard of new media. They do have cable now but they'll watch repeats of comedies on UK Gold. My brothers are bright people but they don't have TiVo [digital video recorder] – they don't know what it means. Vast amounts of people outside London have neither the money nor the time to indulge [in gadgetry]."
There is also damning criticism from the independent sector. Mike Csaky, the chief executive of Antelope independent production company and an award-winning documentary producer, said: "I think there's an enormous lack of editorial vision, inspiration and guts. There's more copycat TV and less aspiration for something better than I've seen for years. I'm startled at how other countries have caught up with us. We've got an awful lot to worry about."Reuse content