Growth of 'tabloid TV' attacked by directors: Guild says big-name stars and formulaic drama are over-used

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TELEVISION viewers are being fobbed off with cheap imports, repeats served as vintage and classic programmes, and formulaic drama, according to the Directors Guild of Great Britain.

The guild, which represents the 1,000 or so professionals who make programmes, says the decline in standards is resulting in 'tabloid television' replacing the quality entertainment programmes for which Britain was once renowned.

The directors say they are forced to accept inappropriate, well-known actors and comedy stars by companies more concerned to find vehicles for the talent under contract, rather than the best leads.

The guild has called a meeting for tonight at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in London, and says that its targets in the campaign to raise standards are both the BBC and ITV, and particularly the new centre that commissions all ITV's nationally screened programmes.

John Bruce, chairman of the guild, and a director of ITV's police drama series The Bill, said: 'We feel the chips are down. Viewers are getting a raw deal.

'There is no lack of quantity, but what was previously being spent on encouraging new writers and new comedies and enabling production crews to improve programmes is now being channelled into the market side of our industry, dominated by accountants, committees and computers.

'We are not producing the quality of programmes we made in the past. It is the road to disaster. TV drama used to reflect what was wrong, funny and tragic about our society.' David Tucker, who directed BBC 1's unsuccessful drama series A Year in Provence, starring John Thaw, said: 'It must be three or four years since I actually cast the leading characters. It is common for TV companies to look at their stars as profit centres, and to look for vehicles for them.

'They especially like those who have won their spurs in comedy. Some are wildly and woefully miscast. It is why you see the same faces again and again.'

Directors, who usually work as freelances on productions, also say that work is drying up because the ITV network centre takes such a long time to make up its mind about projects and is looking for safe bets, while the reorganisation of the BBC's drama department has left people uncertain about who is taking decisions.

Marcus Plantin, ITV's network director, said the network's schedules were not full of repeats, and its policy during the spring and summer was to show fewer of them. 'I don't believe our drama is formulaic,' he said. 'There is a whole range of comedy drama and drama. We are Britain's leading popular channel.'

He said that the guild was overlooking the new genre of drama documentaries, including Granada's recent Fighting for Gemma, and the pounds 250m ITV spent each year on drama.

'But there is a big cultural change under way, there are no production guarantees giving people work, and drama makers are having to make a pitch for commissions,' he added.