Paul Abbott: 'We will only succeed if we don't underestimate the viewer'

From the Hew Wheldon Lecture, delivered by the TV screenplay writer, to the Royal Television Society, meeting in Cambridge
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The Independent Online

Proscenium arch television that begs viewers to like it, to stick with it, can only look like a speed-dating candidate at best. We need more drama that shows a world we don't know, to take us places we've never been - even if that's in the head of the woman next door. Drama should reflect society, but not so literally that we may as well just stand at a bus stop and get the same gig.

We need more drama that unpeels society, that roots through the cubbyholes to fetch us nuggets of human behaviour that opens our eyes a bit. Not just the dark stuff. Wondrous fragments of ordinary people that can take our breath away. But we will only succeed if we don't underestimate the viewer and give them the stimulation they crave.

So what's the future? What do we want to watch tomorrow? Not lowest common denominator drama, where the writers, actors, producers are on 40 watts of energy. Most people in the industry will quietly admit they don't watch much telly. Why not? Well, probably because they're yet to make anything they'd actually want to watch themselves.

The audience deserves, and I believe craves, much more protein in their diet. Only by giving the viewer a workout, making them join the dots, use their own imagination, can we reclaim television drama as the challenging, exciting, life-changing medium that I and many others have known it to be.

There are many talented writers out there, and actors, and production teams. All they need is for people to believe in their ideas, and for them to believe in their audience. Then what we want to watch tomorrow can really be the next best thing.

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