Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Who Are These People?

The ones who make decisions like moving Holby in a cynical marketing ploy so they can shove Holby Blue in it's spot and hope nobody notices? Well a couple of million viewers noticed. Because that's about how many Holby lost as a result of the move.

Are they the same people who decided 'Castaway' was a good idea? Did no one tell them that ''Shipwrecked' works for C4 because of the amount of young female flesh on display? Who wants to see a bunch of mostly middle aged hippies bickering? Certainly not most middle aged viewers, who it must have been aimed at.

Are they the same people who thought there was a huge difference between 'A Place In The Country' ' Homes Under The Hammer' ''Location Location, Location' and every other property show where in fact the only real difference is the lame attempts at tension they introduce.

Are they the same people who think that the UK viewing public are happy with a steady diet of middle of the road, comfy TV? Throw in a Jane Austen, a nice detective, a middle aged lawyer moving to the country and ''something with sirens but is really about the characters emotional lives'' and you've pretty much got the schedules covered.

I'd like to go on but my cocoa is ready, my slippers warming and I'm pretty sure I can catch a re-run of Rosemary and Thyme somewhere.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lowest Common Denominator

I hate spammers. I hate them with a vengeance. Spammers are like cold callers but at least I can get revenge on cold callers by pretending I'm interested for a few minutes thus depriving them of time to move on to the next sucker. A small victory, granted.

I've just instigated word verification on this blog, and I hate that I have to. But I have to because dipshit scumbags are bombarding this site. My apologies. I want to post what I want, where I want and on many occassions don't because I have to jump through hoops to do so.

Please bear with me. I feel bad about letting the ignorant people win.

Playing Piano In A Brothel

.........Would earn you more money than writing. It's official. Well not in so many words but ALCS have a survey out showing that 10% of UK writers [and German for some reason] earn 50% of the dosh while 30% of writers earn less than the average wage.

Now while I admit I am of the school of Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics that is the kind of statistic that strikes fear into would be screenwriters. And it shouldn't. If you look behind it a couple of things come to mind. Firstly the survey seems to be conducted with ''writers'' including novelists, playwrights, poets and every shade in between. The vast majority of writers are novelists, playwrights, poets and every shade in between. The vast majority of novelists, playwrights, poets and every shade in between are very poorly paid.

The vast majority of film and TV writers aren't. So I'd figure that a lot of that top 10% were screenwriters. But before any smug smiles about career choice appear here is a very sobering thought.

There are some 20 thousand odd novels published every year in the UK. 20 thousand chances to strike gold, build a career. There are maybe 2 thousand hours of drama [in a very good year] Most of which are filled by established writers.

The costs of entry for a new writer are so much less for a novel than a TV show or movie. So the risk to publishers[producers] is much less. A novelist is not going to see anything he hasn't written or agreed with appear in print. A novelist isn't going to have their work compromised by physical production issues.

So you pays your money and you takes your choice. Writing a novel would bore me shitless which is why I haven't done it. But that's just me. David Balducci had many scripts rejected before he decided to attack HW through the novel route. Worked for him.

Think about it. It might work for you.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

When to shut up.

A writer mate of mine, and I know he reads this blog but no apologies for my personal round of applause, decided enough was enough. A bunch of inexperienced no-nothing yahoohs were leading a show down the short and winding road to cancellation.

This guy has nore dramatic savvy in his wettest fart than anyone running the show has. But boy, earning big bucks from keeping your head down and giving them what they want or speaking up and being sent to Siberia, costing you many thousands of squids? That's a dillemma. And sent to Siberia was what would happen on this show given the personalities involved.

Every pro writer knows that editorial changes are par for the course. But here we are talking
direction of the show, not run of the mill editorial changes. And when that happens the good writer who has the experience to know what works speaks up. He could have been sacked. As it turned out he wasn't. In fact he did himself a lot of good thanks to top level exec changes he wasn't aware of at the time.

You can take the money and run but ultimately all a good writer has is his integrity. Well done mate, you know who you are.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Return To Sender

I had my first ever ''returned unread'' a few days ago. My agents sent a major prodco a project of mine. They sent it back unread saying they had an existing project in a similar vein and so felt it innapropriate to read my material in case of any perceived cross contamination.

Fair comment. But you know what? I'd prefer if they actually read it. I don't give a stuff about cross contamination or knicking projects. I'm not saying it never happens, but the incidence is so rare it isn't worth bothering about. And anyway, watchagonnado if it happens? So I'd have liked them to read it to see if I was coming at it in the same way they were and maybe get a gig on the show. But there you go.

I see Casualty got it's long service award at the Baftas. Good on it. 21 years and still going strong....ish.

Chatting with a writer mate the other day about the demongraphics. When we are even older than we are now will we be sitting down with a nice cup of tea to watch Midsommer Murders with the rest of the 61 year olds? Don't really know the answer to that. But if we're not then the networks are going to find their current core drama audience literally going up in smoke.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Yes it was deliberate. Because statistics are the way devil worshipping execs keep themselves in a job. John Yorke freely admitted that Holby Blue had virtually nothing to do with Holby but the name was a cynical exercise to market a new cop show.

THE AUDIENCE ISN'T DUMB. Or rather the POTENTIAL audience isn't dumb. And for the head of drama at the BBC to come out with crap like that isn't exactly a wizzard show, Biggles.

Holby Blue was trounced in the ratings by Midsummer Murders. But as far as demongraphics are concerned here is a very sobering thought. The average age of the 28% share of viewers of Midsummer Murders was 61. The average age of the 24% share of Holby Blue was 47.

Clear proof that we are living longer. Or maybe it just feels like it?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Cinema Is Dead

..... or so they keep saying. They said it in the fifties when TV became popular. They said it in the eighties when video came around. And they said it in the nineties with DVD and Home Cinema.

But it still seems to be here? And revenue is pretty much growing year on year. And you don't hear too many complaints about audience fragmentation like you do in TV? I suppose some of that is due to the fact that the studios are responsible for some of the TV audience fragmentation. Who's going to watch some ropey old drama on TV when the latest blockbuster can be viewed in the comfort of your own armchair? God bless DVD.

I've posted before about the economics of HW. In 1984 the studios made a 2.2 Billion dollar loss on theatrical releases. Seriously. 2.2 Billion dollar LOSS!!!!! That sounds like a business you don't want to be in. Unless you know they made a 30 BILLION DOLLAR PROFIT !!!!! from DVD and TV sell through. Now it begins to make a little sense. Especially as they have gipped the talent out of their fair share of that pot of gold - but that's another story. See, Studios evolved and built a new business model where they could actually take advantage of the competition.

TV has to make that same leap of evolving if it wants to stay as the market leader in home entertainment. The guys in pony tails will bang on about how evolving means web content and user interfaces and all that crap. Complete red herring. The one and only truth is that if you want people to watch the show, they have to want to watch it. The fact that some fanboy can pose a question to an actor or vote on the colour of the hero's car is meaningless if he is the only fanboy watching. [ Apropos of Will Dixon's excellent post]

In my opinion TV has to cater for those who don't visit show websites. That is their audience. The vast majority of us. And we are a fickle bunch. We know from Ep 1 if a show is crap or worth sticking with. If we like it we'll make a vague committment to sit down next week and watch. If it continues to entertain we'll firm it up a bit and make it required viewing. If it really touches us in whatever way we may possibly buy the box set.

If it doesn't entertain, it is gone. Dead. History. Doesn't matter how many marketing gimmicks you throw our way. We can smell a stinker. You can make a corpse twitch by shoving a few thousand volts through it, but it will never play the piano again .

So what can TV do to compete? Make better programmes. Because by doing so you will be able so sell them internationally, which will give you more money to make better programmes, which will enable you to sell internationally, which will .........well you know where I'm going.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


That's a word that probably doesn't figure highly in writer's minds, but is way up there in the lexicon of BBC Buzzwords. So is worth mentioning for that alone.

Essentially the BBC want to see more minorities on screen. I couldn't agree more. Though I'd rather see the diversity in the ranks of writers, producers and directors first. Otherwise you have a lot of 'whitebread writing street' scenes, to use a shorthand.

I don't have a lot of time for quotas. And throwing minorities into a show just to make up the numbers rather than actually investigating the issues and stories which can be dramatically portrayed to give everyone a better understanding of that minority seems like a waste of time.

There is the argument that you integrate the minority character and make them just like any other, and that is fine. But minorities are different. That's is why they are labelled minorities. And before any dipshit BNP wally dives in, I'm talking about celebrating and sharing those differences. I love that different groups of people feel and act differently depending on their cultural background. And as a writer I want to understand why. So I can write it. Those small differences are interesting to me.

If I were writing a movie about the Williams Sisters or Tiger Woods or Shilpa Shetty or I should be so lucky - Nelson Mandella or Martin Luther King I would want to get behind the minds. What shaped and influenced them and why whitebread like me still actually thinks in terms of minorities? Or maybe I don't?

Diversity - Good! Diversity for the sake of it - Not as good.

Jasper Carrott sitcom about a one legged black lesbian miner - or something like that - not good at all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Okay I usually only buy this to flick through the TV schedules to see who is writing or producing what. I tend to ignore the commentary and fluff pieces, especially the blatent programme marketing. But there is usually something very interesting, and what is more, completely unbiased to be had out of some of the features.

I hadn't even reached the schedule pages of this week's edition when a few things struck me. Firstly Holby Blue didn't figure in the RT Recommends for the week [ but is RT choice on the day, so can I assume they are different people recommending weekly and daily or can I assume that because the weekly recommend is for shows post Holby Blue time slot they are one and the same person?]

I always read the Alison Graham column. Her Bafta thoughts this week are pretty much the same as mine. And she has never been afraid to knock BBC programmes.

And the ''What I'm watching'' section is always interesting. This week Angus Deayton, after listing his viewing choices, says '' Hearing all this might make you think I don't watch British programmes - and you'd be right''

Join the club Angus. Join the club. And he is one of a long line expressing similar views. Maybe, just maybe, someone at the BBC, reading a BBC publication, will actually register this.

You can make TV for the pipe and slipper brigade, that's fine. No problem. It's a genuine market. But it is not the only market. And far from the biggest and most important market. The one that doesn't require snuggle TV.

I watched a BBC ''comedy'' about young contemporary life last night. I missed the opening and didn't catch the title but it was something about male and female flatmates. It had some okay moments but was spoiled by an incessant laughter track that only highlighted the unfunny moments and some hammy, panto like acting that dispelled any belief in the characters. It was a three snigger show at best.

Shows that work come from the gut. The guts of the producers and writers and directors who believe in a project much more deeply than demographics and marketing and focus groups. I can guarantee you that almost any well loved and iconic show you care to name in the last 10 years had to be fought for by those same people.


Having now read the Radio Times schedules I have just figured out that the title of the ''comedy'' was Not Going Out written by Andrew Collins, film reviewer of the Radio Times and writer of that thing with the guy from The Fast Show, you know, the one where he is a grass and has something.....I forget. I must buy a Radio Times.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Born In The USA

Okay hands up those who prefer watching American fare like 'Lost' or 'CSI' or 'Battlestar Gallactica' or 'The Sopranos' or 'House' or even cancelled shows like 'Arrested Development' or 'Firefly' or reruns of Frasier and Seinfeld rather than watch home grown fare?

Mmmmmmmmmmmnnn? Most of you. Interesting. That is the dolemma [pun intended] the UK networks face. Because while they are chugging out lowest common denominator user friendly pap the majority of the audience are looking at the goodies on offer on multi channel and voting with their index fingers.

In the rush to give 'Middle England ' something that a half decent share will watch [half decent by today's standards] the networks are losing sight of the fact that TV is a global business. Something the Americans learned some time ago. Big Budget production values both on and off the screen coupled with great storytelling and a cut throat sense of what works and what doesn't is why we even have people high up in the BBC saying they prefer to watch American shows [ no name no pack drill]

And yes, we see the cream not the crap and yes they make mistakes, like cancelling Arrested Development and Firefly! But take a look at say ....the BBC. Not reliant on adverstising and having squillions a year come into it's coffers and yet what's the best they can come up with for a new prime time series? A tired old police procedural format like Holby Blue. And it will chug along with it's five million viewers and some execs and writers and production folk will be in a job for a few years. Big wow.

I know, because I've written for both, that two of the mainstays of UK Drama, Casualty and The Bill sell to about half a dozen countries, max. The reason why they don't sell to more countries while the best American shows are truly global? Because they are too parochial, as in UK exec parochial. They are dull, slow and boring. You'd have to fast forward Casualty on your VCR to make it anything like E.R. The Bill is like NYPD Blue on tranquilisers. But they get solid viewing figures here. And solid viewing figures are the Holy Grail for execs. The rest of the world thinks they are crap but so long as 5 to 8 million Middle Englanders religiously tune in they will keep being made. Because the networks have given up on absolute numbers, instead relying on share to judge a show's worth . 30% share is a success. The fact that 30% of a piss poor pot is actually quite meaningless is neither here nor there to them and their salaries.

That is a little harsh. They have a mandate they have to work to, what with watersheds and diversity issues and budgets that are heavily weighted towards non creative infrastructure. But it can come as no surprise that the best current American shows have succesful movie people behind them, because sucessful movie people know that the key is 'a good story well told' Something that I think gets lost in UK TV when 'on screen on time and on budget' is the watchword of the execs rather than 'is this actually any good?'

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.

Wouldn't we all as writers like to be known as that? Sounds like the epitomy of writers to me. Well it would if I were Byron. Heck it would be me right now if I didn't have a living to earn in this industry where mad, bad and dangerous are not the buzz words to progress a career . And make no mistake, it is an industry.

But here's a dirty little secret. People with passion are who you need to seek out in this industry. You might have to shovel coal before you get there, but someone along the line will spot that you shovel coal 10 times better than anyone else.

Just keep at it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Same But Different

So Holby Blue got off to a reasonable 5.4 million viewers last night. Reasonable by today's standards where it seems like around 5 million is the benchmark. And yes there is a lot more audience fragmentation than say even 10 years ago what with multi-channel, games, internet and binge drinking all available to the much coveted 16-35 age group.

Which leads me to believe it is the same 5 million people watching the networks. At least I would definitely suspect a large percentage of those 5 million are the same ones watching Holby and Casualty and The Bill , and I guess that is why another straightforward police procedural got the nod from the powers that be. Well that and the names behind it. No one at the BBC is going to get sacked commissioning a Tony Jordan project.

But here is the strange dichotomy. You go into any indy producer right now and they'll tell you they want groundbreaking original drama [don't they always] Go in with an idea like Holby Blue [which has virtually nothing to do with Holby other than the name which is really just a marketing tool to hook in those 5 million Casualty, Holby and The Bill viewers] and they'd look like you'd handed them a piss flavoured milkshake.

See, there's a huge gap between what a lot of people would like to make and what the networks are willing to make, despite a lot of protestations from them. And that is all about risk. Long running drama and recurring series are the backbone of the networks. Commercial channels live or die by their advertising revenue. Simple as that. I posted way back that ITV were touting that they were looking for the same groundbreaking fresh drama as the indies are constantly talking about. That may be true so long as it is groundbreaking fresh drama that attracts at least 5 million viewers or else you can see it moved to 11.30 on a Monday night pdq and then quietly cancelled!

The BBC, becoming ever more ratings conscious, do the same, witness The Innocence Project. In reality as far as recurring series are concerned what the networks really want is 'The Same But Different' Life On Mars gets a lot of kudos as reinventing the procedural drama, but in essence it was a bog standard police procedural set in the 70's with a neat twist. The Same But Different. Silent Witness is Quincey MD for the 21st Century. The Same But Different. Spooks is a hight tech 'The Sandbaggers'' 'The Same But Different'' The Royal is Holby forty years ago. The Same But Different. Waterloo Road is Teachers but less funny. The Same But Different. Holby Blue is The Bill. The same.......well that's it really.

I undertand the networks' position. TV is a very expensive business and a major flop can stall a career. But I can't help thinking there is an air of rabbits staring at headlights. They see a diminishing audience and don't really know what do do about it other than try to hang on to the 5 million loyal viewers. By giving them the same but different.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Script Editors

I have previously posted about ''script editors I have known'' but Dave Bishop at in his notes of the script factory conference tickled me with his quote from Tony McHale about some script editors wanting to be writers and using your script to show how good they are.

I know Tony and I can imagine the rant and overturned tables when that happened. It recently happened to me. I was on a third draft and my notes arrived. Usually 3rd draft notes on this show are a few pages, four or five at most. Imagine my surprise when I noticed the page count said 10! Imagine my laughter when I saw that about 5 of these pages were suggested dialogue. And I mean things like add '' but'' or 'she can say ''Is that so?'' Granted, this is a baby script ed and might not know what she is doing, but the attitude is one of 'I know better' when the truth of the matter is that most script editors attempts at dialogue sucks farts from swans, honestly.

Obviously the temptation is to say ''sweetheart, if you want to be a writer then give up the monthly pay cheque and give it a go'' On the same show I know a great script editor who is now writing, so doesn't come into the 'most' category, but I wish she was back script editing. Because she did know the job, and how to get the best from the writer, which is essentially tell the writer clearly what you are looking for from a scene and let them get on with it.

There are good script editors out there and when you find them. cherish them.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Did you watch that when you were a kid? I think it used to be on about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, Actually I think they brought it back for a short spell quite recently. I loved it. Used to rush home from school for it. Had to wait for those fuckwits on Playschool to bugger off sometimes but that was a small price to pay. I loved any kind of storytelling. I remember Miss Harper [ all us 8 year olds had a crush on her] reading The Hobbit to us for an hour a week. Best hour of the school week, no question. And she had this really cute way of biting her lip and........

I love storytelling in whatever form. Film, TV, Book or a mate down the pub. And for me, I think that for a writer the love of story and storytelling is the best attribute you can have. All the craft in the world isn't going to help if you don't have that instinct.

Of course format is important, especially when you are trying to break in. But that is cosmetic. Telling a story well is by far more important. And that doesn't mean hitting your act 1 break on page 20 or whatever. A story has it's own rythmn, and if you've gauged it correctly no one is counting pages, they are too engrossed, anyway a good story will tend to organically follow the three act structure. Which no matter how the gurus try to analyize it, is really just beginning middle and end.

I'd like to try to cut through the bullshit about writing and just lay it on the line. We are storytellers. First last and always. Like comedians, some can do it, some can't. And it doesn't matter if you are writing corporate videos, nature documentaries, or blockbuster movies. To be a writer you need to be a storyteller in your heart and in your mind.

Then you have to get some fucker to buy it. But that's another story.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Pick noses not fights

But fight when you really have to. All you have as a writer is your integrity. That's what makes you different from the greasy pole climbers who surround the industry. Naked honesty is your tool of trade and that will eventually make you draw a line in the sand on occasion. And I mean eventually.

When is the right occasion? When it feels like it. But only after you have been through the day to day crap you have to endure as a writer. You have to be able to identify the special crap that deserves to be fought before you don the boxing gloves. I mean the Gloves of Death. The Fuck You gloves. The 'Take Your Show And Shove It Up Your Ass' gloves.

These gloves are rarely used. Almost pristine in fact. But sometimes they have to be pulled out. I'm wiping them off with a damp cloth right now.