Leading article: Dramatic licence

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The Independent Online

There is discontent in theatreland, or at least in those regions not prone to bursting into song at moments of heightened emotion. The director of the Old Vic, Kevin Spacey, has criticised the BBC for promoting the West End musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber through a succession of primetime Saturday night shows designed to find stars for his productions.

It is hard not to feel some sympathy for Mr Spacey's argument. Television programmes such as How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria, Any Dream Will Do and the latest, I'd Do Anything, do indeed look like pretty hefty publicity vehicles for Lord Lloyd-Webber's business interests.

One does not have to be a staunch critic of the unchallenging brand of entertainment that Lord Lloyd-Webber peddles to wonder whether this is really what the BBC ought to be spending licence payers' money on. Yet, in purely practical terms, this is a problem the corporation faces whenever it dabbles in commercial entertainment.

One might equally argue that the BBC gives free publicity to Hollywood studios, at the expense of domestic theatre, when it reviews the latest releases or invites stars on to its chat shows. And, anyway, are such shows as I'd Do Anything really doing any harm if they attract new audiences to the theatre? It is not inconceivable that a punter who begins by taking in Oliver! might one day graduate to Speed-the-Plow, presently on at the Old Vic.

Mr Spacey is not entirely wrong about the skewing of the BBC's coverage towards musical theatre. But in truth, perhaps he doesn't need to make quite such a song and dance of the problem.