What your office (and your trophies) say about you
Monday 18 July 2005
Disasters make solipsists of us all. I have met so many people in the last week who almost caught the train at Edgware Road or the No 30 bus, but the most almost- injured are the comedy producers whose shows are cancelled in case they might offend the public.
Mock the Week and The News Quiz were pulled outright, while the C4 topical panel show 8 out of 10 Cats was extensively re-edited to make it " acceptable" to viewers. This tactful behaviour by broadcasters is completely understandable in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but what worries me is how long this sensitivity will last. There have been endless references in the press to the spirit of the Blitz, but surely one of the really great things about the British in a time of crisis is their gallows humour. I can understand a broadcaster in the next few weeks blenching at the idea of green lighting a comedy about British Muslims trying to decide between a date with 67 virgins in Paradise or an evening in watching the Pop Idol final, but let's hope that in a few months time commissioning editors realise that shielding the viewer from potentially contentious satire is tantamount to letting the terrorists win.
IN THE Importance of Being Earnest, the hero Jack Worthington evades all tiresome social engagements by claiming that he has to visit his sick friend Bunbury, a completely fictitious character whose illness waxed and waned according to the likely tedium of the evening ahead. TV commissioners are obviously keen Wildeans: always anxious to avoid a direct answer, the socially adept controller will always modify his or her opinion by claiming that s/he needs to run it past some scheduler/controller/team/marketing manager or other Bunbury. The trick for the producer is to decode whether running it past the Bunbury means "I think this is a good idea but I will look really stupid if we made an identical show six months ago and I am having a senior moment" or "how can I get these people out of my office". Although the second best answer is always a "quick no", unequivocal negatives are pretty rare in TV. Perhaps controllers could save time and embarrassment by installing Blofeld-style trapdoors in in their offices. Surely this would be more humane than the infamous level-one commissioning rounds conducted by the BBC where hapless producers are grilled on the merits of their idea by a Hutton-like inquiry. I have resolved not to attend another without legal representation.
THERE IS much wailing and gnashing of teeth in my household as The OC has finished its run. Tuesday nights won't be the same without the brooding Ryan and the farouche Marisa, particularly as someone has clearly provided them with an acting coach since the first series. But for anyone who is similarly bereft, all is not lost because coming soon to Channel 4 is the most gripping tv drama I have seen in a long time, the hit American series Lost. Part Lord of the Flies, part Lost Horizons, part Jurassic Park with lashings of lipgloss and defined six-packs, the air crash survivors on a desert island drama is this summer's substitute for Marisa's orange Porsche and the Housewives wardrobe. My summer viewing should be taken of, were it not for the fact that having obtained tapes of the entire series, I was unable to stop myself watching them all in one orgiastic weekend. Luckily I can always find solace until The OC starts again in that other saga of torrid teenage emotions, The Archers.
I AM IN the middle of starting up a new production company. The whole process reminds me vividly of being pregnant. Indeed I have spent longer choosing the name of my new company than I ever did choosing those of my children. TV company names have cyclical fashions - the current one is for the adorably whimsical like Baby Cow or Betty or At It.
My initial favourite, Daisy Chain, was ruled out by the sniggers of my gay friends and anyway, I wanted to start a company, not an ego trip. Every other name I came up with like Venus, Vixen, or Fishnet sounded like a company specializing in women's erotica. Other suggestions such as Amethyst, Darling or Handbag were rejected as being too Tampax. I'm still searching for the name which is elegant, classic, classy, unisex and doesn't sound like a cheap perfume.
I HAVE BEEN asked to go to the Edinburgh TV festival to appear on a panel called Hit after Hit. Talk about tempting Providence. Still, it may be an opportunity to sell my new software package, which programmes your laptop to churn out successful programme ideas as a default setting.
Having been a witness to the life-imitates-format scenario that saw the controller of BBC1 swapping jobs with the CEO of Talkback Thames, I was interested to observe what each of them had brought to their new offices.
Peter Fincham has nothing in his glass walled box apart from an uncompromising set of table and chairs and a Paul Smith jacket with a violet silk lining. Lorraine Hegessey has painted the wall of her office in bold colours and has installed a wall mounted television in her office which is permanently tuned to one channel ( no guesses as to which one it might be). One office suggests a Zen-like indifference to the trappings of power or even perhaps performance bonuses , while the other suggests that old habits die hard.
I find the hermeneutics of TV offices endlessly fascinating. The prominence of the trophy shelf is a key signifier, as is the presence or not of the family photograph and if present whether is it a cheerful school snap or moody black and white print.
Perhaps I am more sensitive to these things as I am currently 'between' offices, but have resolved that in my new premises I will think hard about displaying my lone award from Bradford and Bingley Building Societyfor the best personal finance programme of 1999.
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