When a politician says it's not about the money, you know – say observers of American politics – that it's about the money. You could say the same about the BBC and ratings. When their spokespeople insist, as they did yesterday, that it's not about the ratings, you can be pretty sure that this is indeed exactly what it's about – in this case the plummeting number of viewers for Emma, its latest costume drama.
Whether this reflects fatigue – and if it does, whether it is fatigue with Emma, with Jane Austen or with costume drama generally – viewers are voting with their remote controls. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Costume drama plays well in the international market, bringing the BBC US awards by the shoal. But at home, the times they have been a-changing. Where TV drama is concerned, perhaps today's mood is for something more up-to-date and grittier. It is time for the BBC to fold away the frills and seek out a British equivalent of The Wire.